Topeka The Kansas Republican Party on Wednesday pushed for passage of a bill aimed at reducing the number of voters who switch parties before the primary to hurt the GOP.
The bill would essentially prevent registered voters from changing their party affiliation from June 1 through Sept. 1. Currently, voters registered as Republicans, Democrats or Libertarian can change their party affiliation up to 21 days before the August primaries. Unaffiliated voters can declare a party affiliation at any time.
Clay Barker, executive director of the state Republican Party, said the primary election belongs to the political party, not the general public, and is the party's mechanism to select its candidates.
Barker said he believed third-party groups were urging voters to switch parties to advance an inferior candidate who would then face the opposition party's candidate in the general election.
But neither Barker, nor state Rep. Keith Esau, R-Olathe, the main supporters of House Bill 2210, could provide examples of party-switching occurring as part of political gamesmanship.
Esau told members of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee that he has heard about it mostly from posts on Facebook urging people to switch parties to affect the primary.
"We don't have any specific data," Esau said.
Topeka resident Jack Sossoman submitted written testimony in which he said he believed Democrats changed their party registration to Republican to help state Sen. Vickie Schmidt, R-Topeka, defeat Joe Patton in the August 2012 GOP primary. Schmidt won by less than 200 votes out of more than 11,000 cast, and then easily won the general election.
"Democrat voters crossed over to vote for the moderate Republican in the primary because they knew that in the highly Republican District 20 of Kansas, they could not elect a Democrat in the general election, and they would much rather have a moderate Republican with views aligned more towards those the Democrat Party," he said.
But state Sen. Kay Wolf, R-Prairie Village, said she had not heard of any widespread voter registration switching.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach supports the bill, saying it would reduce the administrative burden on county election officers who must maintain records of the registration changes.
But the Mainstream Coalition, a non-partisan advocacy group that supports separation of church and state and increased funding of public schools, opposed the measure, saying it would restrict the ability of voters to affiliate with the party of their choice.
Mark Dugan, a member of the coalition, said many voters simply want to vote for the best candidate, regardless of political party.
"For these conscientious voters, any restriction on the ability to choose party affiliation is a restriction on the ability to choose their leaders," he said.