In Kansas, candidates have some leeway on how their names appear on ballot

photo by: Journal-World File Photo

In this file photo from May 7, 2018, a stack of mail-in ballots sits at the Douglas County Courthouse.

TOPEKA – When voters in Kansas go to the polls, state law requires them to show a government-issued photo ID to prove they are who they say they are. But when they file to run for an office, they’re given a little more latitude about how their names appear on the ballot.

That became evident recently during a candidate forum in Lawrence featuring candidates in contested primaries for local seats in the Kansas House.

The Journal-World uses a statewide voter registration database for a number of reasons, including to look up each candidate’s full name and to calculate the candidate’s age.

Surprisingly, there were two candidates in the Democratic 45th District primary whose names did not appear on the voter registration list, at least not in the same way they will appear on the ballot. Those were former Lawrence Mayor Mike Amyx and Lawrence resident Steven X. Davis.

When asked, both candidates were forthright about what they’d done. Amyx explained that his legal name is Thomas Mike Amyx, the same first name as his father. But no one has ever called him Thomas; he has always been known as Mike.

When he went to the Kansas secretary of state’s office to file for office, Amyx said he was told to put down his name as he wants it to appear on the ballot, so he put down Amyx as his last name and Mike as his first name, even though it’s really his middle name.

Bryan Caskey, who heads the elections division in the secretary of state’s office, said that has been the practice for at least the last four secretaries of state in Kansas. As long as the ballot name is reasonably similar to the legal name, the state allows it, unless somebody objects.

Davis, on the other hand, took a little more liberty. Since both his first and last names are fairly common, the Journal-World looked hard for someone with a middle name like Xavier, or even just a middle initial of X.

At the time the Journal-World’s copy of the database was acquired, in June 2017, there were two registered voters in Douglas County named Steven Davis and a third named Stephen Davis. But none had the middle initial X.

That’s because his middle name is actually Michael. Davis explained that he put down the X so that, when talking to voters or speaking at forums, he can end by saying, “Put your X next to Steven X. Davis,” or words to that effect, which he did at the Lawrence forum on July 14.

Again, Caskey said, it was close enough to his real name that his office saw no grounds to object, and nobody else filed an objection either.

Caskey said the office also takes a permissive view on the use of nicknames, which appear on the ballot inside quotation marks.

In Lawrence, for example, there is Rep. Dennis “Boog” Highberger, who has said his nickname has been around with him since grade school. And there’s Lawrence resident Brian “BAM” McClendon, the only Democrat running for secretary of state.

Others are pretty understandable, such as Andrew “Andy” Hurla, a candidate in the 18th District House race in Johnson County, or Susan “Suzi” L. Carlson, a candidate in the 64th District House race in Clay County.

But then you have people like Vic “T-Bone” Miller, an incumbent Democrat in the House from Topeka who has been involved in state and local politics for decades without ever previously using that nickname.

But none of those cases compares to the name controversy that flared up in the 4th District congressional race this year, where incumbent Republican Rep. Ron Estes is being challenged in the GOP primary by another Ron Estes.

There, the secretary of state’s office decided to list the incumbent with his title “Rep.” and the challenger as Ron M. Estes. The challenger did file an objection to that, but it was rejected.

Those kinds of controversies are not exactly new in U.S. politics. In 1946, for example, when future President John F. Kennedy launched his first campaign for Congress, he ran in a contested Democratic primary with 10 other candidates, including two named Joseph Russo.

According to a 2014 Washington Post retelling of the story, one Joseph Russo was a Boston City councilman. The other was a custodian with no previous political experience.

The legend is that JFK’s father, Joseph Kennedy, recruited and bankrolled the custodian as a strategy to weaken the better-known Russo. It’s not clear whether that was even necessary, though, because the two Russos combined received only 6,460 votes, far behind JFK’s 22,183.

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