Law forces voters to decide before they have all the information
Let’s see, it’s June, the weather is nice, the kids are out of school and you have read enough about candidates in Kansas that you decide to switch parties so you can vote for (or actually against) a candidate you like (or don’t).
Enjoy that month of June decision-making, because it’s your last one.
That’s the new law.
Republicans, who like their primary elections to be just among themselves, passed and Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law this session a bill that prohibits change of party affiliation — but not first-time party affiliation as a new voter — after the candidate filing deadline. Previously, party affiliation could be changed about a couple weeks before the August primary.
The new bill doesn’t become effective until July 1, and the candidate filing deadline this year is June 1, so you have a month to consider whether you want to dabble in the other party’s primary election.
For the 2016 elections, you’ll have to decide which primary election you want to vote in before you know for sure who’s running.
If you’re a Democrat—and there aren’t many Democratic primary election jousts in Kansas—you might well decide that you’d rather have your local representative or senator as moderate as they come, and register Republican to tilt the vote toward the moderate. If it works, the Democratic candidate runs against a moderate Republican, and the damage to your psyche on election night isn’t as great as it might have been.
That happened in 2012, when enough Democrats changed party affiliation in at least one Senate race—moderate Sen. Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka, vs. conservative Rep. Joe Patton, R-Topeka—to make Schmidt the winner of a close Senate primary race. The Democrat in the race? Terry Crowder, a solid Democrat in a highly Republican district. He lost, but for most purposes Democrats preferred Schmidt to Patton.
Republicans might also switch party lines to vote in Democratic primaries, but there aren’t many of them, and culturally…well, it’s difficult for Republicans to make even that brief party switch.
So, this is the last election cycle where voters are likely to learn something about who’s on the ballot before they have to settle by June 1 on which primary they want to vote in.
Or…the shut-down of party switching might just create a new majority of light-footed unaffiliated voters, who will be able to declare a party affiliation at the polls, signing up and getting a ballot.
That might become a more popular option for many Kansans who figure that they want to construct a general election with candidates who overall are more likeable to them, one in which the candidates are closer to the general election voter’s philosophies, whichever one wins.
Except, remember, after you choose a party—it doesn’t matter in the general election of course—you have to switch back to unaffiliated status sometime before the candidate filing deadline of the next election to have that late-deciding option restored.
Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report. To learn more about this nonpartisan statewide political news service, visit www.hawvernews.com.