Editorial:Election action

Measures that will significantly impact Kansas elections are moving ahead before the details of their impact have been fully examined.

A couple of election bills proposed by Secretary of State Kris Kobach are zooming along in the Kansas House.

A measure to allow straight-ticket voting in Kansas and one making death the only acceptable excuse for withdrawing from a national, state, county or township election race both were approved Wednesday by the House Elections Committee, less than two weeks after they were introduced.

Members of the committee apparently had gotten their questions about the two bills answered to their satisfaction, but the same may not be true for many Kansans — especially county election officials.

The measure to change the requirements to withdraw from a political race is a direct result of the maneuvering that occurred last fall when Democrat Chad Taylor withdrew from the state’s U.S. Senate race. Kobach said Taylor hadn’t shown, as the current statute requires, that he was unable to fulfill the duties of the office, but the Kansas Supreme Court disagreed. Kobach then wanted to force the Kansas Democratic Party to replace Taylor on the ballot, but party leaders declined and a three-judge district court panel allowed that decision to stand.

Clarifying this law may be a good idea, but saying that death is the only reason a candidate’s name can be withdrawn goes too far. One legislator pointed out that, according to the bill, someone who suffers a debilitating stroke or is required to move to another state for a job transfer couldn’t withdraw from the race even though they would be unable to serve.

Good point — but not good enough to hold the bill for further consideration.

Similar good points were raised about the straight-party voting bill. Key among those is what impact the measure would have on county election officials and how much expense administering a straight-party option would add to the election process.

The political subtext of the straight-party voting bill is that it would allow candidates at the end of the ballot to ride the coattails of fellow party members at the top of the ticket. In Republican Kansas, that advantage most often would fall to Republicans. Kobach says the measure would reduce “ballot drop-off,” which he defines as voters voting in prominent races but not completing their ballots. It’s too much trouble, apparently, to consider the qualifications or experience of those candidates on down the ballot, so better to let those votes be cast purely on the basis of party affiliation. The impact of that philosophy will be even greater if Kobach is able to push through his idea of moving local city commission and school board races to the fall and making them partisan contests.

At the rate they are moving, there’s a danger that both of these bills will be passed before their ramifications are fully examined and, perhaps, mitigated. That may serve legislators’ political agenda, but it doesn’t serve the state.