Archive for Thursday, June 17, 2004

Judge blocks open primary

Temporary ruling finds GOP leader had no authority to expand voting

June 17, 2004

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— A Shawnee County judge on Wednesday blocked unaffiliated voters from participating in the Aug. 3 Republican primary.

District Judge Charles Andrews' order is temporary, meant to remain in place only until Andrews considers a lawsuit on whether the GOP can end its tradition of keeping its primaries closed to everyone but registered Republicans.

However, in his five-page order, Andrews also said the decision of state Republican Chairman Dennis Jones earlier this month to open the primary to unaffiliated voters "appears to be without authority."

Andrews also suggested that Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh would violate Kansas law if he, as the state's chief elections officer, permitted unaffiliated voters to participate.

"In fact, all Kansas citizens will be harmed if this court knowingly allowed the secretary of state to violate Kansas law," Andrews wrote.

Kansas law has mandated closed Republican and Democratic primaries since 1908. But a recent federal appeals court ruling in an Oklahoma case led Thornburgh to conclude the state cannot dictate to the parties who can vote in their primaries.

Thornburgh asked the state GOP and Democratic chairmen to give him directions. Both parties decided to open their primaries to unaffiliated voters, but the decision of Democrats' state executive committee has not been challenged. That means the two parties could have different rules on Aug. 3.

Many Republicans and some political scientists have speculated that an open primary would attract more moderate voters, hurting conservative candidates.

After Jones said the Republican primary would be open to unaffiliated voters, Susan Estes, the GOP's 4th Congressional District chairwoman, sued Thornburgh in Shawnee County District Court.

Estes also sued Jones in Sedgwick County District Court, where Judge Richard Ballinger immediately issued a temporary order to prevent unaffiliated voters from participating in the GOP primary. However, Ballinger planned a hearing Friday to determine whether that order will remain in effect.

Andrews said his order, issued hours after a hearing in Shawnee County, "merely preserves the status quo" until a controversy can be settled.

But Richard Macias, a Wichita attorney representing Estes in the Sedgwick County ruling, said in a telephone interview, "Clearly, we won round one."

Jones said he wants more people to participate in Republican primaries and is frustrated that, as young Kansas soldiers promote freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan, "We have those in Kansas who believe the democratic process should be totally restrictive."

The state party's constitution and its bylaws do not say how the party decides who can vote in its primaries. Because of the long-standing Kansas law, it hasn't been an issue.

Estes contends that if the GOP wants unaffiliated voters to participate, it must amend its constitution, which requires a two-thirds majority in a state convention.

Jones said he did not exceed his authority, adding, "I have carefully reviewed the constitution and the bylaws."

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