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Archive for Friday, July 14, 2006

Democrats to open primary; GOP’s to stay closed

July 14, 2006

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— Democrats and Republicans again will play by different rules when it comes to who can vote in their Aug. 1 primaries.

Voters who have registered but have not declared a party affiliation can cast ballots in Democratic contests, as they could in 2004. Party leaders view opening their primaries as a way to attract new members.

But Republicans aren't even entertaining the idea. Two years ago, a lawsuit filed by one party leader blocked an attempt to permit participation by unaffiliated voters.

Kansans have until Monday to register to vote at the secretary of state's office in Topeka, at a county elections office or at hundreds of other locations including banks, libraries and grocery stores. First-time voters must show identification, such as a driver's license.

The state began holding primaries in 1908, but until 2004, state law kept them closed to all but those who were registered party members. That year, a federal appeals court ruled in an Oklahoma case that parties - and not the state - must set the rules on who can vote in primaries.

For Kansas Democrats, the party's executive committee decided to open the primaries in 2004 and this year. There has been little fuss among activists.

"It's pretty much the unanimous consensus that we want to be the big tent party and the party of inclusion," said state Chairman Larry Gates. "If you want to be they party of inclusion, you can't close your primary."

Besides the Democratic and Republican parties, the state allows Libertarian and Reform Party candidates to list their affiliations on the November general election ballot. But Libertarians and Reform Party members choose their nominees in party conventions.

Allowing unaffiliated voters to participate in Democratic primaries nearly doubles the pool of potential voters. About 454,000 Kansans, or 27 percent of the 1.7 million who registered to vote two years ago, were Democrats. There were 445,000 unaffiliated voters.

At least 11,000 unaffiliated voters participated in Democratic primaries two years ago, accounting for about 10 percent of the ballots cast, according to the secretary of state's office.

Gates said he's not sure more unaffiliated voters will be drawn this year to Democratic primaries, given the relatively few contested races. For example, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is unopposed in seeking renomination.

In 2004, opening primaries was a contentious issue for Republicans. Then-Chairman Dennis Jones said unaffiliated voters could participate, only to have his decision overturned in court when the GOP's 4th Congressional District chairwoman sued.

The current chairman, Tim Shallenburger, said the GOP would consider the idea if there was strong interest among activists - and there isn't.

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