Topeka — Following the lead of the state Republican Party, Kansas Democrats will open their Aug. 3 primary to unaffiliated voters.
Larry Gates, chairman of the state Democratic Party, said he didn't know how many unaffiliated voters would choose to vote Democratic, with the party expecting less than a dozen primary races for state legislative and congressional races. A vote taken Monday night of the party's executive committee was 15-5 to open the primary, he said.
"As Kansans have more opportunity to choose, we believe they will choose to align themselves with mainstream Democrats," Gates said.
Dennis Jones, the Kansas GOP chairman, said Friday his party would invite unaffiliated voters to participate in the primary. That decision came despite the objections of Republican members of the state's congressional delegation and Atty. Gen. Phill Kline, who said the decision should come from a vote of the GOP convention, not just the chairman.
In April, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver struck down an Oklahoma law that limited participation in that state's primaries to party members and unaffiliated voters. The appeals court said a state could not restrict a party's ability to define who may participate in choosing its candidates.
Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh had asked the parties to make a decision by today's deadline for candidate filings on whether they wished to open their primaries in the wake of the ruling.
Democrats and Republicans began having primaries in Kansas in 1908. The contests always have been closed, though unaffiliated voters have been able to participate by declaring an affiliation at the polls.
July 19 is the last day to register to vote or change party affiliation for the August primary. Currently, there are 715,724 Republicans, 421,876 Democrats and 398,778 independent voters registered in Kansas.
Kansas recognizes four parties: Democratic, Libertarian, Reform and Republican. Parties obtain recognition by submitting petitions signed by enough registered voters to equal 2 percent of the total votes cast in the last general election for governor. Currently, that figure is 16,714.
Once recognized, a party can place its nominees directly on the general election ballot, whereas independent candidates have to circulate petitions and collect signatures.
While Republicans and Democrats have primaries, Libertarians and Reform Party members nominate their candidates at conventions.