TOPEKA — A bill that would prevent voters from switching political parties after the filing deadline for candidates is on its way to the governor.
The Senate voted 27-12 on Wednesday to approve the bill; the House approved it last year.
House Bill 2210 would prevent voters who have a party affiliation from switching after the June 1 filing deadline until after primary results are certified in August. It would allow unaffiliated voters to change registration.
Current law allows voters to change parties up to two weeks before the primary election. During the primary, voters affiliated with a party select one candidate from the party in each race to advance to the general election.
Republican supporters say the bill would protect the integrity of primary elections. They say the bill is meant to prevent the manipulation of primary elections by political advocacy groups that encourage members to switch parties.
Democrats say it is an attempt by incumbent Republicans to prevent future primary challengers from succeeding. Opponents also say voters should have the right to switch parties if they want to support a candidate who belongs to another party.
Sen. Julia Lynn, R-Olathe, contended on the Senate floor that party switching disenfranchises other voters who are already registered as a member of that party.
“Stealing elections and manipulating elections is not what the democratic process is about. So let’s get real here and let’s lay it on the line and let’s just admit that this goes on, and this disenfranchises our voters to the point where their vote doesn’t matter,” Lynn said.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, asked Lynn to name an election in Kansas that had been stolen.
Lynn declined to do so, saying that would be unstatesmanlike. But Hensley persisted, and after a heated exchange Lynn responded that federal elections have been stolen.
“Yes, there have been federal elections that have been stolen in Kansas and that’s all I’m going to say,” Lynn said. “I am not going to call out any election and start a fracas in this chamber. I’m not going to do it.”
Hensley told her that was an outrageous accusation to make on the Senate floor if she was not willing to back up that claim.
He also targeted Kelly Arnold, the chairman of the Kansas Republican Party, who was observing the Senate as a visitor.
Hensley contended that it was inappropriate for Arnold, who had submitted testimony in favor of the bill, to be present during the debate.
Arnold was in and out of the Senate chamber during Wednesday’s session and stood outside for most, though not all, of the debate over the election bill. He claimed he was observing the chamber as a Kansan.
“I think it’s appropriate for any constituent that wants to see the legislative process to be on the Senate floor,” Arnold said.
“I’ve had no discussion with any senator about this bill while they’ve been debating this bill,” Arnold said. “I’m not here to lobby, to put pressure or anything. I’m just here to visit the Capitol today.”
Arnold is a strong advocate for the bill, which he said it is meant to protect both political parties from having their primaries disrupted by outside organizations or campaigns.
“This is a party bill. This is not just for Republicans. This is for Democrats as well. It’s about the fact that parties are in charge of their own primaries. They decide who they want to be their nominee,” Arnold said.
Hensley said the bill was part of the civil war between moderate and conservative Republicans. He called it an “incumbent protection bill” that would help ensure conservative victories over moderate challengers.
“If you vote for this bill, that’s essentially what you’re doing. You’re protecting yourself from a future primary opponent who might get some help from people of the opposite party,” Hensley said.
Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, raised concerns about the strict deadline the bill imposes, reasoning that voters may not know which party they want to support until primary candidates are announced.
Sen. Mitch Holmes, R-St. John, chair of the Ethics and Elections Committee, dismissed these worries, saying that Republicans know they’re Republicans and Democrats know they’re Democrats.
McGinn, however, suggested that the bill might backfire on supporters since it could be an incentive for being unaffiliated instead of belonging to a party.