Politics & Government

March 8, 2012

Do you have questions about Saturday's Kansas GOP caucus? Here are answers

An unusually competitive GOP race could bring more than 5,000 voters to Century II Convention Center on Saturday for the Republican presidential caucus, the party projects.

An unusually competitive GOP race could bring more than 5,000 voters to Century II Convention Center on Saturday for the Republican presidential caucus, the party projects.

That would be a record, eclipsing the 3,228 Sedgwick County GOP voters who cast ballots in the 2008 matchup between former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Arizona Sen. John McCain.

This time around, voters will be asked to mark their ballots for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia or Texas Rep. Ron Paul.

Since Kansans only do this once every four years, it’s time to review some of the do’s and don’ts of caucusing.

Here are answers to some common questions:

Why a caucus?

Why do we have a caucus instead of a primary?

Technically, state law mandates a presidential primary every four years. But in every election cycle since 1992, the Legislature has voted to cancel the primary to save money – at present, about $2 million. There’s also been a lack-of-interest factor because Kansas’ spot on the national schedule has usually been too late to influence the outcome of the parties’ nominating process.

What impact does our vote have on the presidential selection process?

It varies. In most years, not much. Probably the biggest impact of recent years was in 2008. The state went strongly for Huckabee, giving his campaign some momentum to keep going, even though he had only a small chance to catch up with McCain.

This year, however, Republican Party rule changes designed to extend the nomination process and a relatively competitive four-man race could mean Kansas’ votes might make more of a difference.

How does a caucus work? How do people vote?

When you arrive at the caucus site, a volunteer will check your identification and check you in. In Wichita, you’ll be directed to a seat. Once everyone’s seated, each qualified candidate or a supporter appointed by the campaign will have the opportunity to make a 10-minute speech. After the speeches, ballots will be distributed.

Voters will mark their ballots and deposit them in a ballot box at the hall. They can keep their choice secret, if desired.

When and where

What time does it start?

All caucuses will be called to order at 10 a.m.

What time do I have to get there?

The east doors at the Century II Convention Center, the caucus site in Sedgwick County, will open at 8 a.m., and county party officials recommend voters arrive then if they want to be assured a seat for the speeches and political activities. There will be presentations and entertainment for the two hours between when the doors open and the caucus is called to order.

Doors to the Sumner/Cowley county caucus at Wellington High School, and the Butler County site at the Butler Community/4H building, will open at 9 a.m.; in Harvey County, doors will open at 9:30 a.m. at Santa Fe Middle School.

What time can I vote?

After the speeches.

How long will the caucus take?

The speeches and other party business are expected to take about an hour and a half. If you opt to show up later just to cast a ballot, it should only take a few minutes.

Can I just go and vote, or do I have to listen to all the speeches?

You can just go and vote, although if you show up before about 11:30 a.m., you won’t be able to get your ballot until the speeches are concluded.

How late can I vote?

You can vote if you are in line at the caucus site at 1 p.m.

Can I vote by absentee ballot or at my regular polling place?

No. Only in-person voting is allowed at the caucus sites. The caucus is run mainly by volunteers and the party didn’t have the people or money to set up an absentee voting system.

How can I vote if I can’t make it to the caucus site?

You can’t. However, you can cast a provisional ballot at any caucus site in the state if you’re not in your home county that day.

Provisional ballots will be transported to party headquarters in Topeka and counted once the voter’s registration is verified.

Why does Sedgwick County have only one caucus site when Johnson County has seven?

There weren’t any buildings available in Johnson County big enough to hold the number of people expected, so party leaders spread the caucuses out among area schools.

Where do I go if I'm not a Sedgwick County resident?

Search for your official caucus site using this map:

Details, details

Is there an admission charge?

No. The party has an explicit rule against charging anyone to participate in a caucus (although some caucus sites may pass the hat for donations).

What do I need to take with me?

You will need a government-issued photo ID. Most people satisfy this requirement with a driver’s license or DMV-issued non-driver ID card. Tribal ID, passports and other ID allowed by Kansas secretary of state guidelines are also acceptable.

Can I bring signs to support my candidate?

Yes, in fact, that’s encouraged, along with stickers, buttons, T-shirts, literature, etc.

Unlike a regular election where electioneering is prohibited, caucuses are purely partisan events with a dual purpose of voting to select the party’s nominee and generating enthusiasm for the party in the general election.

Can I vote if I am registered as an unaffiliated voter?

No. Under party rules, only people registered as Republicans as of Feb. 17 are allowed to vote. This differs from the Democratic Party eligibility rule, which allows people to fill out a card on the spot to register as a Democrat and participate in the caucus, which this year will be April 14.

How are Kansas delegates allotted?

The delegates (40 total) will be selected later, during congressional district and state conventions as follows:

•  25 delegates are awarded proportionally based on the statewide vote totals.
•  3 delegates (12 total) are awarded winner-take-all in each congressional district.
•  3 delegates (the state party chair and national committee man and woman) are allocated to the candidate with the most statewide votes.

In the event that no candidate has a majority of delegates at the national convention and multiple ballots are held (a rare occurrence, but possible this year), Kansas delegates remain bound to their candidate until the candidate releases them to vote for someone else.

Released delegates are then free to vote for the candidate of their choice, not necessarily the one endorsed by their original candidate.

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