Updating special-election rules that haven’t been touched since the 1950s, the state House on Thursday approved a bill to fix problems with the process for replacing U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo.
The bill extends the time period for holding a special election, allows the Libertarian Party to nominate a candidate like the Republicans and Democrats, and eases the signature burden for independent candidates.
The measure passed 122-1. It will go to the Senate next week.
This is must-pass legislation in my view.
Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita
It is unusual for the House to pass substantive legislation in the first week of a session. House Bill 2017 is fast-tracked because President-elect Donald Trump has selected Pompeo to serve as chief of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Senate confirmation is expected soon, which will leave Pompeo’s 4th Congressional District seat empty. The U.S. Constitution requires that House vacancies be filled by a special election of the voters in the district.
The procedure in current state law for conducting the special election conflicts with a federal law requiring that the state mail absentee ballots to military and other voters overseas at least 45 days before an election.
HB 2017 increases the time between when the governor sets the election date and the date the election is conducted.
Current law requires the vote to be held 45 to 60 days after the governor’s proclamation; HB 2017 extends that period to 75 to 90 days.
The bill also changes the timing for parties to nominate a candidate.
The current law states that parties have to wait 25 days to choose their nominee. HB 2017 requires parties to pick their candidate between 15 and 25 days after the governor sets the election.
That change was made “so that we know all the people that will be on the ballot by the 25th day after the vacancy occurs,” said Rep. Keith Esau, R-Olathe and chairman of the House Elections Committee.
The Republican and Democratic 4th District committees will select their nominees.
The new bill would allow the Libertarian Party to hold a convention and nominate a candidate. Although the Libertarians are a recognized party in Kansas, they would not participate in the special election under current law because their most recent candidate for governor didn’t get 5 percent of the votes cast in the 2014 election.
HB2017 also lowers the number of signatures that independent candidates would need to gather to get their names on the ballot.
Under current law, prospective independent candidates would have to gather about 17,000 signatures from district voters to get on the ballot. HB 2017 lowers that to 3,000.
Courts have ruled that states have to have reasonable rules for nonpartisan candidates to run for office, and Esau said the current signature threshold is too high.
“To get ballot signatures in 25 days, 17,000 is a nearly insurmountable number,” he said.
The bill passed after about 20 minutes of debate and only one amendment to the version that passed out of the Elections Committee.
Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, offered that amendment to clarify that independent candidates would have to wait for the governor to set the election before they begin collecting their signatures.
Carmichael said he only wanted to clarify the bill, not delay it.
“This is must-pass legislation in my view,” he said.