Voting does matter, just not mathematically. Only rarely does a single vote determine an election’s outcome. But overall, “Who votes?” can make all the difference.
For past few years, Secretary of State Kris Kobach has consistently made it more difficult to register and vote. But I don’t want to quibble about questionable allegations of penny-ante voting fraud and ill-considered policies to address these allegations.
Rather, I want to advocate as strongly as possible for pursuing a highly inclusive model of voting, to increase turnout and make our elections more representative of the views of all Kansans.
I suggest first that we work hard — really hard — at registering all potential voters, and especially those who turn 18 and become eligible to cast their first ballots.
Second, we should consider adopting a full-fledged vote-by-mail system, which makes it easier for voters to cast their ballots and saves money to boot.
Third, for all state and national legislative offices we should adopt a “top two” primary system, in which the two highest primary-election vote-getters face off in the general election.
None of these suggestions constitutes a panacea for low turnout or uninformed voters, but together they would give all Kansans far more of a stake in the electoral process.
Thus, the state of Kansas should seek – aggressively and at some considerable expense – to register every eligible voter. That means going into high schools, monitoring GED programs, canvassing neighborhoods, and sending out email solicitations. Registration should be simple – the motor-voter form is a good example – and universally available.
Second, Kansas policymakers should seriously consider going to a 100 percent vote-by-mail system. Oregon has long had such a process, and turnout has risen, especially in local elections, while fraud has remained a non-issue. In the end, we should embrace higher turnout.
Oregon’s Secretary of State concedes that mail balloting is not a cure-all, “but in terms of a reform that’s simple, familiar, and powerful, automatically sending every American voter his [or her] ballot — without their needing to ask for it – is a great place to start.”
Beyond increasing voting participation, one additional reform might make our politics far more representative. Current partisan primaries in Kansas and many other states lead to the nomination of relatively extreme candidates, in that highly partisan and ideological activists often dominate low-turnout primary elections.
In three states – California, Washington, and Louisiana – primary voters choose among all candidates for an office, with the top two advancing to the general election. The major argument for such a system is that it will produce more moderate winning candidates, who will better represent the overall preferences of the broad electorate.
In practice, Kansas voters in some legislative districts might well choose two Republicans as the top two primary candidates. In the general election, the argument goes, the GOP candidates would have to compete for some Democratic and independent votes, thus producing somewhat more moderate results.
Initial studies of the top-two primary have been inconclusive, but over the long term this reform has the chance to make election results more representative of all voters’ preferences.
In the end, we should energetically encourage more individuals to cast their ballots, with universal registration and voting by mail. And if this broader electorate could produce more representative results through a top-two primary system, all the better.
In short, the combination of more voters and stronger representation offers a positive, highly democratic approach to enhancing the quality of electoral politics in Kansas.
Burdett Loomis is a political science professor at the University of Kansas.