Opinion: What else is on your August ballot?

With all of the attention being focused on the proposed “Value Them Both” constitutional amendment, Kansas voters may be wondering what else will be on their ballots this Aug. 2.

Kansas’ party primaries will be on that ballot. Voters must be registered as members of a particular party in order to vote in that party’s primary. The last date that one may change one’s party registration this year was back on June 1. Voters registered as unaffiliated may change their party affiliation at the polls and then vote in that party’s primary. From then onward, they will be registered as members of that party unless they choose to change it again, in which case they must do so by the next deadline.

Many Kansans will find themselves voting in new districts this year. Centered on Johnson County, the Kansas City-area 3rd Congressional District loses most of Wyandotte County to the 2nd and gains the rest of Miami along with all of Anderson and Franklin counties. The 2nd District loses Lawrence (but not the rest of Douglas County) to the “Big First” district of central and western Kansas, while several counties in east-central Kansas move from the Big First to the 2nd. There are numerous changes to the Statehouse maps as well.

State House and Senate primaries are quieter this year than in the recent past, for several reasons. First, most moderate Republicans have now switched parties or left politics altogether. Second, this year’s redistricting complicated early candidate filing by making it difficult to determine one’s new district until the last minute. Finally, the heavy publicity given to the constitutional amendment is crowding out attention to the primary races. One notable exception — Wyandotte County Rep. Aaron Coleman faces two Democratic primary opponents, both Latina women. Elected at 21 years old, Coleman is vulnerable after facing charges of domestic abuse and battery. However, his two opponents may split the opposition vote.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt has no serious opposition to become the Republican nominee challenging Gov. Laura Kelly, who in turn is unopposed in the Democratic primary. Instead, the primary race to watch is the GOP contest for attorney general. Perennial firebrand Kris Kobach faces challenges from State Sen. Kellie Warren and former federal prosecutor Tony Mattivi. All stress their conservative credentials, including opposition to numerous Biden Administration initiatives (some of which they mischaracterize), and a promise to “get tough on crime.” A lawyer from Johnson County, Warren promises to avoid Kobach’s missteps. Her experience is mostly in civil law, while Mattivi’s is in criminal law. These two risk splitting the anybody-but-Kobach vote and allowing him to win, a repeat of the 2018 gubernatorial primary. Most observers think that Kobach will be the most vulnerable to unopposed Democratic challenger Chris Mann, who has experience as both a law enforcement officer and an attorney.

There is also a race for secretary of state, a job that includes overseeing elections. Republican incumbent Scott Schwab appears to have the edge over “Big Lie” proponent Mike Brown, who falsely claims that widespread election fraud changed the results of the 2020 presidential election. Schwab carefully threads the needle by stating that no such fraud occurred in Kansas — which is true, but he neglects to mention that it did not occur in other states either. Big Lie proponents have caused major disruptions in Michigan and other state primaries this year.

As things wind down toward Aug. 2, expect advertising and candidate appearances to heat up, fighting to steal a little attention from the proposed constitutional amendment.

— Michael A. Smith is a professor of political science at Emporia State University.


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