Explaining Kansas’ Presidential Preference Primary, which will take place next month for just the 3rd time in state history

photo by: Kim Callahan/Journal-World

The Douglas County elections office at 711 W. 23rd St. is pictured Monday, Oct. 31, 2022.

For just the third time in Kansas’ history, voters in March will be participating in a Presidential Preference Primary.

The Presidential Preference Primary — an election where the vote totals are given to a political party to allocate delegates for presidential candidates at their respective national conventions — is set for March 19. It’ll be the first state-run presidential preference primary in Kansas since 1992. This type of election can only take place with an act from the Kansas Legislature, which voted during the 2023 session to authorize a primary just for this year.

Like in other states, it’s a function of Kansas’ statewide Republican and Democratic parties to allocate the delegates who will choose which presidential candidate for each party will show up on the general election ballot in November. Delegates are chosen either via a primary election or a caucus process, the latter of which is how Kansas’ major political parties have traditionally approached assigning delegates. Unlike primary elections, where any registered voter affiliated with a party can cast a ballot, caucuses in Kansas have previously been conducted by smaller groups of delegates in each congressional district.

But the Presidential Preference Primary takes the responsibility of conducting a caucus out of the state parties’ hands and instead has the voters at large decide how many delegates for each candidate will eventually be allocated at the national convention. Only registered voters affiliated with either the Republican or Democratic parties can vote in the primary, and voters can only switch their party affiliations for the March primary until Feb. 20. Voters who haven’t declared a party affiliation can still participate by making that declaration at any point up to — and including — Election Day in March.

Voters registered with the Libertarian Party or Kansas’ newly recognized No Labels party can’t participate in the March primary and instead must nominate candidates for the November general election by convention or caucus.

Because they happen in Kansas so rarely, Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew told the Journal-World Thursday, the upcoming primary is already causing some confusion. Shew said it’s important to recognize that the primary is not deciding who will be nominated for the general ballot in November; it’s just the first step in allowing the state’s major parties to help make that decision later this year.

“Really, there are generations of voters that have never done this, and just kind of understanding how it’s different than what maybe people are used to with an August primary (can be confusing),” Shew told the Journal-World. “I think they’re used to whoever wins the August primary, they’ll see on the ballot in November.”

But the Presidential Preference Primary is a completely different election from the usual August primary, which will take place on Tuesday, Aug. 6 this year. The Presidential Preference Primary will include only the names of candidates who had filed their candidacy with the Secretary of State by Jan. 19 — and instead of a write-in section, the option to select none of the candidates on the ballot. Those votes will inform the statewide parties as they determine the delegates who will go on to endorse their favored candidates and select a final nominee at the national conventions.

The candidates that will show up on Democratic ballots include front-runner and incumbent President Joe Biden, Jason Palmer, Dean Phillips and Marianne Williamson. The Republican ballot will include Ryan Binkley, Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley and Donald Trump.

The August primary, meanwhile, won’t include anything related to the presidential election to begin with. The options on that ballot will be for national and statewide congressional races and other local races.

There are other differences from the typical election year calendar that Shew said he wants to clarify for voters, such as some variation in deadlines for voter registration and the length of the advance voting period. Usually, registration closes 21 days prior to an election, but for this one, it’s 30 days. And a request for an advance ballot usually must be made up to seven days before an election, and for this one instead must be requested 30 days prior.

“I want people to understand this is kind of a one-off,” Shew said. “So all the other deadlines stay in effect for all the other elections.”

Despite the differences, polling places will still open across the county on Tuesday, March 19, and advance voting — which begins Wednesday, Feb. 28 — will still be available at the Douglas County Elections Office, 711 W. 23rd St., up until noon the day before Election Day.

But for now, there’s still some uncertainty, Shew said. County election officials are preparing for March 19 like any other election, but he said the office currently isn’t getting a lot of traffic. And county election officials across the state don’t have much of a reference point to predict what turnout might look like on Election Day.

“Among the clerks across Kansas, there’s been some discussion about ‘How many people should we plan for, what kind of turnout?'” Shew said. “Well, I think there’s only one clerk that’s been around since 1992. We all don’t know what that looks like. … I’ll be interested to see just what kind of turnout there is, just because it is kind of a unique election.”

More information about how the Presidential Preference Primary will work in Douglas County is available on the county’s website. The last day to register to vote in the March primary is Tuesday, Feb. 20.


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