Archive for Thursday, January 11, 2001

Election law reforms sought for Kansas

Changes urged for recounts, vote suppression

January 11, 2001


— The state's chief election official said Wednesday that if Kansas' presidential vote had been as close as Florida's "chaos may have ensued."

But the problem wouldn't have been caused by dangling chads, Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh said, since Kansas doesn't use punch-card ballots.

The problem would have been that Kansas law would have required the candidate requesting a recount to post a bond in each of the state's 105 counties within six days of the election.

Speaking to the Senate Elections and Local Government Committee, Thornburgh said he would propose legislation that would allow a candidate seeking a statewide recount to simply post a bond in the secretary of state's office. A bond is required, under state law, to ensure the recount is paid for by the candidate seeking the recount, if the challenge doesn't change the election's outcome.

Thornburgh said he also would propose other changes in Kansas law based on problems during the recent election.

One of his proposals would make it a criminal offense to try to misinform voters on whether they can vote.

He said this proposal stems from election eve "vote suppression" calls made in Douglas County. The calls to Democrats said they would be turned away from the polls if they didn't have a white or blue registration card. In reality, no such card is necessary.

Sources have told the Lawrence Journal-World that the calls were either arranged or made by Pete Hunter, a 24-year-old Kansas University law student and unsuccessful GOP legislative candidate.

Atty. Gen. Carla Stovall has declined to file charges against Hunter, saying Kansas law does not specifically prohibit false statements. Hunter has not responded to repeated messages left for him by the Journal-World.

Thornburgh also said he didn't think it was necessary to pass legislation, proposed by Gov. Bill Graves at the outset of the session, that would provide an automatic recount in elections where the candidates are separated by less than one-half of one percent of the vote.

"I could support it, but I don't think it's necessary. But I also don't think it's damaging," Thornburgh said.

Thornburgh said changes are needed in Kansas election law in the wake of the presidential contest between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Vice President Al Gore. Gore won the popular vote by about half a million votes but lost in the Electoral College after the U.S. Supreme Court denied him a recount in Florida.

"Public confidence has been shaken in our election system," Thornburgh said.

Mark Joslyn, a KU political science professor, told the committee that after the election, many called for changes to the Electoral College.

He said the most plausible change would be to award two electoral votes to whoever wins the state, and then award one electoral vote for the winner of each congressional district. Under current Kansas law, the candidate who wins the most votes gets all the state's electoral votes.

Apportioning the electoral votes would mean national candidates more likely would pay more attention to states such as Kansas, traditionally landslide states for Republicans. Nebraska and Maine have the apportionment system, he said.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.