Politics & Government

Kris Kobach proposes bills to return straight-ticket voting, change election-withdraw procedure

Secretary of State Kris Kobach, right, on straight-ticket voting: “I think it will improve participation in races down the ballot and it’s a matter of voter convenience too. It’s just another way of assisting the voter.”
Secretary of State Kris Kobach, right, on straight-ticket voting: “I think it will improve participation in races down the ballot and it’s a matter of voter convenience too. It’s just another way of assisting the voter.” Associated Press

Secretary of State Kris Kobach proposed two election bills Wednesday, one to bring back straight-ticket party voting and another that would make death the only excuse for a candidate’s name to be withdrawn from an election.

The two bills are in addition to his ongoing effort to convince the Legislature to let him prosecute voting fraud.

A straight-ticket system allows voters to check a single box with the name of a political party to cast a vote for every member of that party on the ballot.

Kobach said he wants to bring back the straight-ticket option to cut down on the number of voters who come to the polls, vote in the major races and leave the rest of the ballot blank.

“I think it will improve participation in races down the ballot and it’s a matter of voter convenience too,” Kobach said. “It’s just another way of assisting the voter.”

He said it also could reduce voting lines because marking a straight ticket would take only seconds, instead of the several minutes it takes to work through a long ballot race by race.

Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat who serves on the elections committee, said straight-ticket voting is a relic of his grandparents’ time and he’s opposed to bringing it back.

“That does not contribute to the electorate making a meaningful choice,” he said. “Instead it just encourages mindless voting based solely on partisan politics and that is not good for the democratic process.”

Twelve states currently offer straight-ticket voting, according to the National Council of State Legislatures.

Nine got rid of it within the past 20 years. One legislature, Wisconsin, voted to do away with straight tickets but was overruled by a citizens’ referendum.

Most states, including Kansas, had straight ticket voting in the past.

The Kansas State Library found a 1915 sample ballot that had the option for straight-ticket voting for three parties, Democratic, Republican and Socialist.

However, the library could not find details on when Kansas jettisoned the practice.

Kobach’s you-can-only-quit-if-you’re dead bill would change a state law that lets a candidate nominated in a primary withdraw before the general election by turning in a statement that he or she is incapable of serving in the office.

To get off the ballot under Kobach’s proposal, a candidate would have to die after the primary and before Sept. 1, about two months prior to a November general election.

And if a candidate did die, his or her party would be required to appoint a replacement candidate to represent the party on the ballot.

The bill is in response to a situation that arose in last year’s election.

With a U.S. Senate seat apparently up for grabs, Democratic Senate nominee Chad Taylor abruptly dropped out of the race, leaving independent candidate Greg Orman with a clear shot at incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Roberts.

Kobach fought to keep Taylor on the ballot, and then to force the Democrats to name a replacement.

The Supreme Court allowed Taylor to withdraw and a three-judge special court panel ruled that the Democrats didn’t have to pick another candidate.

“It would eliminate this gray area (in current law) of what constitutes a basis for being incapable of serving,” Kobach said.

Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, said he thinks the bill isn’t worth the Legislature’s time.

“It sounds like the secretary is still trying to refight a petty political argument from the last election,” he said. “Most people have moved on to the budget and education crisis we’re facing.”

The committee accepted the bills without objection.

Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or dlefler@wichitaeagle.com.

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