A bill that would create new limits on when Kansas voters could change their party affiliations is another example of state legislators trying to correct a problem that probably doesn’t exist or at least not to an extent that justifies legislative action.
In this case, that “fix” also could limit Kansas voters’ ability to cast their ballots for their preferred candidates.
The bill that has passed the Senate Ethics and Election Committee last week would bar Kansas voters from changing their party affiliation from June 1 (the filing deadline for candidates) to Sept. 1 (about a month after the August primary elections). The goal of the bill, according to Kansas Republican Party officials, is to prevent voters from switching parties in order to skew the opposing party’s primary. The officials say they have no proof of such switches, but they have a feeling some Democratic voters are switching parties to vote for the Republican candidate they believe is less likely to win against the Democratic opponent.
That might be a little underhanded, but it’s far from the most egregious political tactic employed in most races. And what if the voter actually is switching parties to vote for the candidate he or she prefers?
One of the arguments presented during committee testimony is that primary elections belong to the political party. That’s not really true. Political conventions that choose party nominees belong to the party, but state primaries belong to all state taxpayers.
Secretary of State Kris Kobach also supported the bill, saying it would reduce the administrative burden on county election officers who must record registration changes. That’s pretty ironic coming from the man who is trying to force county election officers to conduct a two-tiered election for people who have registered for federal elections and those registered for state elections. It’s also possible that the workload for county officials actually would increase under the bill because people would switch their registration to “unaffiliated” before the June 1 deadline to keep their options open in the primary. Under the new bill unaffiliated voters still would be able to declare a party at the polls for a primary.
The big question here is whether voters who feel strongly about a candidate from either party should be able to vote for that candidate even in the primary. If a Democrat looks over the field of both Democratic and Republican candidates and finds his or her preferred candidate is a Republican, shouldn’t that voter have an opportunity to help make sure that candidate advances to the general election by winning the Republican primary? The same principle applies in reverse, of course, but contested Democratic primary are far more rare in Kansas.
Party-switching for political purpose may occur to some extent now, but efforts to ban that practice serve an equally political motive that also could infringe on the right of Kansas voters to support their chosen candidates.