Correction: Currently, voters can't switch political parties within 21 days of partisan primaries. An earlier version of this editorial had incorrect information.
Because switching parties is a voter’s prerogative, Gov. Sam Brownback should veto the bill meant to prevent Kansans from changing political affiliation during the two months before an August primary. And because of strong opposition from local officials, the Legislature should shelve another bill that would move municipal and school board elections to the fall.
Proponents of the party-switching measure, which cleared the Senate on Wednesday and the House last year, can’t provide evidence of any elections being decided by voters who changed their affiliations just to participate in a primary. Yet the argument that such switching manipulates primaries and disenfranchises voters prevailed in the Senate, with Sen. Julia Lynn, R-Olathe, even making the baseless claim that “there have been federal elections that have been stolen in Kansas.”
Under the bill, unaffiliated voters could still change their registrations to declare a party affiliation. But the current 21-day period before partisan primaries when voters can’t switch from one party to another, which gives local election officials a reasonable breather on paperwork, would widen to more than two months.
As Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, unsuccessfully argued, voters may not even know on June 1 which candidates are running in which races for an August primary and therefore which party they want to support. She cited the particular confusion in 2012, when court-ordered redistricting made candidate filing a last-minute scramble.
The issues in each race may not be clear until shortly before Election Day. Contrary to one argument heard Wednesday, Kansans don’t always know whether they are Republicans or Democrats.
And protecting the integrity of the primary, apparently the main goal of the bill, translates as protecting parties and incumbents. It doesn’t empower voters, who could have any number of valid reasons for wanting to switch their affiliation in the run-up to a primary.
In one all-too-common example in Sedgwick County, five judicial races were decided during the August GOP primary in 2012. That meant just 14 percent of the county’s registered voters decided who would deliver justice to 100 percent of county residents. If somebody wants to switch affiliation to help choose judges or for any other reason, that’s his business.
On a similar theme, why are legislators trying to impose their will on cities and school districts regarding when elections should be held? What happened to local control? At least a Senate committee decided not to place municipal and school board elections on the same ballot as state and federal elections or to make them partisan. But in voting to move the races from spring to August and November of odd-numbered years, the committee dismissed the wishes of local officials. The bill shouldn’t go any further.
And all the passion exhibited by Republican lawmakers about safeguarding primaries and boosting local voting makes one wonder: Where’s the concern for the 15,000 or so Kansans who’ve tried to register to vote but seen their applications – and voting rights – put on hold because of the proof-of-citizenship law?