TOPEKA — Kansas Libertarians are frustrated, but they think they have company.
As one of the minor parties in the state, Libertarians have long struggled to gain members and influence Kansas politics. But the party chairman said that may be changing.
Andrew Gray says the party has seen registrations rise in recent years as more voters become frustrated that the Republican and Democratic parties have blurred the ideological lines that used to separate them.
"People are beginning to understand there is no longer a red or blue but a horrible shade of purple," said Gray, of Topeka. "One can no longer differentiate between the two parties."
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Gray said more Kansans are identifying themselves either as Libertarian or unaffiliated voters heading into the 2010 election.
Registration statewide among Libertarians is up since August 2008, from 9,152 to 9,777 as of May. In Shawnee County, where Gray is based, the numbers have risen from 523 to 599.
Still, one political observer sees Libertarians and other minor parties as outsiders looking in on the process in Kansas.
Mark Peterson, associate professor of political science at Washburn University, describes Libertarians as an "oddity of Kansas politics."
"There's not a lot of them," he said.
Those not signing on with a party register as unaffiliated, and that sector has increased by more than 7 percent, from 451,631 to 484,995. Peterson suspected most of those voters were 18 to 24 years old.
"I really don't understand why anyone would register unaffiliated — especially in a state like Kansas, where the primary elections are where the action is," he said. "If you don't vote in the primary, you get whatever the parties decide they're going to put on offer in the general election."
Democrats have added to their ranks since 2008, increasing from 449,058 to 463,225 registered voters. Republicans are still the dominant party, though the numbers have fallen from 741,786 to 738,750.
The new Kansas smoking ban, which takes effect July 1, has stirred interest among Libertarians, including an unsuccessful petition drive to overturn the Topeka city smoking ban. The party in general believes in less government intervention in individual lives and protection of liberties.
Gray said the party is trying to show potential members that change starts at the local level. No Libertarians serve in statewide office or in the Kansas Legislature, the latter of which is controlled by Republicans.
"You may not be able to change what is happening in Washington, D.C., but you can in your own backyard," he said.
Gray also said the party's messages of a limited government, fiscal conservatism and the sovereignty of the individual are beginning to resonate well with Kansans, "especially now with the ever-increasing encroachment of the federal government."