Elections

Democrats plan to try ranked-choice voting in 2020 primary to select Trump’s opponent

If you’re a Kansas Democrat or become one before the 2020 election, it will be a lot easier for you to help pick the party’s presidential candidate.

Last week, the state party submitted its plan to the Democratic National Committee to ditch Kansas’ traditional caucus system in favor of a primary election with ranked-choice voting.

Kansas Democratic Chairwoman Vicki Hyatt said she thinks the new system will make it easier to vote and increase Democratic turnout. “I’m hoping it will generate a lot of energy,” she said.

It won’t be an official state-run election, but it will have more of the trappings of one than the previous caucus process — which has been used since 1992 to divvy up delegates between Democratic candidates.

Some highlights of the plan:

The primary will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on May 2, a Saturday.

Voting will be by “ranked choice.” Voters will vote for their first, second, third, and so forth choices down the ballot.

In the counting process, if a candidate gets less than 15 percent of the first-choice votes cast, those votes will be redistributed to the candidates who were marked as second choice. The process continues until only candidates with 15 percent or more of the votes are left. Then the delegates will be awarded proportionally, based on the candidates’ percentage of the final tally.

The party will establish “voting centers” across the state where Democrats will be able to gather and cast their ballots.

Every state Senate District will have at least one voting center. Low-population rural areas could have more than one if the Senate district has more than four counties.

Only registered Democrats can vote. But non-Democrats can register or reregister at the voting center on the day of the primary and then cast a ballot.

To encourage young voters, 17-year-olds who will be 18 by the general election in November will be allowed to vote in the primary.

Photo ID will be required, to comply with state law. However, same-day registrants will be given a federal voter registration form so they won’t have to provide the documented proof of citizenship — such as a birth certificate or passport — required with state forms.

The old-style Democratic caucus involved voters going to a meeting hall, listening to speeches and then physically separating into groups to be counted for one candidate or another. It involved a lot of standing around.

Brandon Johnson, a Wichita city councilman and the vice-chairman of the state Democrats, said the primary election will be more orderly and easier for voters to navigate.

While there will probably still be some speeches to be heard, voters will also have the option to show up, cast their vote, and leave. In 2008 and 2016, when the nomination process was hotly contested, the caucuses proved to be chaotic when the number of participants overwhelmed the available space at numerous caucus sites.

Hyatt said the strong sentiment as the party gathered to plan for 2020 was “We can’t do what we did last time.”

The Democratic election might be the only chance to cast a vote in Kansas in the 2020 primary season.

The Republicans are contemplating dropping their 2020 caucus and throwing the state party’s full support behind the incumbent, President Trump.

The only candidate to challenge Trump so far is William Weld, a former Massachusetts governor who’s considered more of a protest candidate than a serious challenger.

Kansas Republican Chairman Mike Kuckelman said a decision on whether to hold a caucus will depend on what opposition surfaces.

The Kansas Democratic primary will come very late in the nomination process.

While the primary season starts Feb. 3 with the Iowa caucuses, Kansans won’t vote until three months later.

That means the Sunflower state will be one of the last 10 states to weigh in and will vote after the big urban states of California, New York, Texas, Florida and Pennsylvania.

While going early is almost always an advantage in attracting presidential contenders to a state, it could be different this time around, Johnson said.

There are 24 candidates so far who have either formally declared or formed an exploratory committee to run for president as a Democrat. With that many running, the nomination could still be in doubt by the time Kansas votes, Johnson said.

The state will have 39 delegates to the Democratic National Convention, out of an estimated 4,532 delegates overall.

Of those, 33 Kansans will be pledged to candidates based on the primary results and six will be “superdelegates,” party leaders and Democratic officeholders who automatically get a pass to the convention.

In a major change from previous practice only the pledged delegates will vote on the first ballot in 2020.

That means the superdelegates won’t get to vote unless no candidate gets a majority on the first ballot.

It is estimated that it will take 1,885 votes to win on the first ballot; 2,267 for the second ballot and beyond.

Kansas had a law on the books calling for official state-run and state-financed primaries for the Democratic and Republican parties. The last one was held in 1992.

Subsequent primary elections were canceled every four years to save money or due to lack of interest, and the Legislature finally repealed the law in 2016.

Senior Journalist Dion Lefler has been providing award-winning coverage of local government, politics and business in Wichita for 20 years. Dion hails from Los Angeles, where he worked for the LA Daily News, the Pasadena Star-News and other papers. He’s a father of twins, director of lay servant ministries in the United Methodist Church and plays second base for the Old Cowtown vintage baseball team.
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