Saturday Kansas caucuses: answers to frequently asked questions

In this file photo from March 2012, about 400 people listen to a speech by a supporter of a leading Republican candidate at a Kansas GOP caucus at Free State High School.

? For many Kansas voters who attend the Republican and Democratic caucuses Saturday, the process may be like none they’ve experienced in previous elections.

That’s because they aren’t “elections” in the traditional sense of the word, and they are not operated by state and local election officials. They are an activity run by the political parties themselves, and both major parties have their own unique rules to govern them.

But that hasn’t stopped many people from calling the Douglas County Clerk’s office, the place where local voters would normally go to get answers about voting.

“We are getting swamped,” Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said Thursday. “There’s a lot of confusion about why their polling place isn’t open. People are calling to find out their polling place, or what they need to have to be registered. But each party has its own rules.”

To help orient voters who’ve never taken part in a caucus before, here are some answers to frequently asked questions:

How is a caucus different from a primary?

The basic difference is, caucuses are operated, and paid for, solely by the parties themselves. They do not take place at regular polling places, but instead in larger public areas such as a gymnasium or auditorium.

Caucuses also tend to be more group-oriented activities. In the Democratic caucuses, for example, there is no secret ballot. Voters literally gather together in groups to support a particular candidate, and they can move from one group to another before the final tally is taken. Kansas Republicans are using secret ballots in this year’s caucuses, although there’s no legal requirement to do so.

In this file photo from April 2012, Claudean McKellips speaks about an issue at a Kansas Democratic Party caucus at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School.

Voters who are only used to traditional primary and general elections may notice another major difference. “Electioneering” — that is, giving speeches, handing out literature, and vocally encouraging people to vote for one candidate or another — is not only allowed at the polling place in caucuses, it’s openly encouraged.

Where are the caucuses held?

If you’re a Democrat, you vote at the caucus site corresponding to the State Senate district in which you live:

• District 2 voters, whose senator is Democrat Marci Francisco, will caucus at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School, 1400 Massachusetts St.

• District 3 voters, whose senator is Democrat Tom Holland, will caucus at Eudora High School, 2203 Church St., Eudora.

• District 19 voters, mostly in rural western Douglas County, whose senator is Democrat Anthony Hensley, will caucus at Highland Park High School, 2424 S.E. California Ave., Topeka.

Republicans have caucus sites set up in each county, and voters in each county are free to choose the one most convenient to them. In Douglas County, there are two Republican caucus sites: Southwest Middle School, 2511 Inverness Drive, Lawrence; and the Baldwin City Library, 800 7th St., Baldwin City.

What is the purpose of a caucus?

The ultimate purpose is to choose delegates who will go to each party’s national convention in July to vote for their party’s nominee for president. No other races for state, local or congressional offices will be on the ballot.

At the local caucuses, though, voters are really selecting delegates who will attend congressional district-level conventions in April, and delegates chosen there will go to state-level conventions where the actual national delegates are chosen.

What happens if my candidate loses by a narrow margin?

Both parties have rules that allocate delegates according to the percentage of vote they received in the caucuses.

Republicans will send 40 delegates to the GOP National Convention, and all of them will be allocated on a proportional basis to any candidate who wins at least 10 percent of the vote in the caucuses.

Democrats will send 37 delegates to their national convention, but four of those are “super-delegates” who go to the convention free to vote for any candidate they choose. Those include the party chairman and vice chairman, and the Democratic national committeeman and committeewoman. Democrats also will choose seven “at-large” delegates, but they will be divided proportionately between the candidates.

What if I’m still undecided on Caucus Day?

Actually, in caucuses, that’s allowed, too. Both parties allow voters to caucus in favor of “uncommitted” delegates who would go to the convention free of any obligation to support one candidate or another.

Do I have to be registered with the party in order to caucus?

Generally speaking, yes. Republican voters must have been registered and affiliated with the GOP by Feb. 4. Democrats, however, are a little more lax about it.

In this file photo from March 10, 2012, Harriet Larkin and her husband Russell Larkin cast their votes in the Kansas Republican caucus at Free State High School.

Democrats will have voter registration applications available at the caucus site. So even if you’re not registered yet, or not yet affiliated as a Democrat, you can fill out a registration card there, and you can vote in the Democratic caucus. You can also apply to register even if you’re not yet 18, if you will turn 18 before the November general election.

Also, the Democratic caucuses will not ask you to provide proof of U.S. citizenship in order to vote in the caucus. But the Douglas County Clerk’s office or the Kansas Secretary of State’s office may ask you to submit those documents before you can vote in any regular primary or general election.

Can I cast an absentee or advance ballot?

The Kansas Republican Party allows military personnel, their dependents and disabled veterans to request an absentee ballot. They have also set up an additional caucus site in St. Louis, Mo., for the convenience of Wichita State University Shocker fans who may be there to watch their team play in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.

Democrats, however, are not allowing advance or absentee balloting this year. Kerry Gooch, the state party’s executive director, said part of the reason is that the Democratic National Committee has very specific rules about handling and counting advance or absentee ballots. He said the state party decided it would be best for them not to have advance ballots, but to allow as many people as possible to participate in person at the caucus sites.

When do I go vote?

Republican caucus sites will open their doors at 10 a.m. In the larger sites, there may be speeches on behalf of the candidates before voting begins at 11 a.m., but voters do not need to attend those if they don’t want to. Voting will remain open until 2 p.m.

Democratic caucus sites will open at 1 p.m. Voters must be registered and in place before the caucusing begins at 3 p.m. How long it takes to complete the process may vary from one site to another, depending on the number of voters who turn out.