How college basketball may affect the Kansas caucuses

Republicans gather at Century II for a caucus during the 2008 presidential campaign.
Republicans gather at Century II for a caucus during the 2008 presidential campaign. File photo

The Kansas Republican Party has set up a special voting site on Saturday in Missouri for basketball fans who are traveling to watch the Shockers.

The party has set up a caucus site at the Westin Hotel in St. Louis to coincide with the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament after receiving a surge of requests from Wichita State University fans. The site will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“This is a nationally unprecedented act for a state political party to hold a Caucus site in another state,” Kelly Arnold, the party chairman, said in a news release.

“Our Party’s ability to adapt and improvise to meet the needs of its voters demonstrates its unrelenting focus on ensuring every Kansan who wants to vote in the Caucus can vote,” Arnold wrote.

Republicans also are allowing absentee voting, according to the release.

Democrats are struggling to get correct information published about where polling sites are, according to Heather Scanlon, communications director for the state Democratic Party. The party has changed the location of some polling places since they were first announced.

The Democrats cannot set up a caucus in St. Louis because of national party rules, she said.

“We don’t do absentee ballots, and we don’t do out-of-state caucuses,” Scanlon said. “I don’t know why there is such a difference, that’s just how it is.”

Scanlon said she’s also worried about young college voters being disenfranchised. That’s because ESPN will not change the start time for the University of Kansas basketball game on Saturday, she said, and some Democrats are protesting.

The Facebook page “KU Change the Time” is protesting the conflict between the start of the caucus and KU’s basketball game against Iowa State at 3 p.m.

“A huge number of KU employees will have to choose to work or exercise their right to vote,” Lynn Abrams wrote on the page. “Athletes & ticket holders will also have to choose between a sporting event & an opportunity to participate in a very important part of a democratic political process.”

The Facebook group, started last Saturday, has about 100 members, links to an online petition and a link to complain to ESPN.

Scanlon said the caucus date and time had been set since the middle of last year and the time of the KU game was decided in the past few weeks. But she admitted it’s unlikely the time will change, because ESPN and not the university makes the decision.

The Democratic Party is not considering changing the time of its Lawrence caucus, she said, because its hands are full just making sure the caucuses go off as planned.

“If we were to change (the time), it would be, frankly, even more of a mess,” Scanlon said. “If we threw in a time change, it would throw off the whole situation.”

In order to make a change, she said, state Democrats would have to get the approval of the national party. It was the state Legislature, controlled by Republicans, that set the caucus time last year, she said.

“It was the Republicans who set the date, set the times and all of these things,” Scanlon said. “So we’re at their mercy for that.”

Some KU students who want to participate in the caucus expressed their displeasure on Facebook.

“Knowing that I have conflicting schedules disallowing me to vote is very frustrating,” wrote KU student Daniel Walker, who said he has spent countless hours practicing and performing in the school’s band. “Voting is very important. … So when I am faced with choosing between being recognized for my time … and voting for someone I truly believe in, I find myself in complete indecision.”

The game conflicts with the Democratic caucus, where voters have to be in place by 3 p.m., but not with the Republican caucus, which has a more flexible window between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

The Kansas Democratic Party posted a petition from Change.org on its Facebook page on Thursday to change the start time of the game. One of the group’s members also noted that Saturday is Fake Patty’s Day, one of the largest parties of the year at Kansas State University in Manhattan.

“These younger voters are such an energized base, we hope that they come out,” Scanlon said. “There are KU games all the time, St. Patty’s Day happens every year, and this is an incredibly historic election. We’re counting on those voters for this historic day.”

Lawrence has traditionally been one of the few Democratic-leaning cities in Kansas, and its many young voters are, according to most polls, expected to favor Bernie Sanders.

One protester posted a link that Sanders is scheduled to visit Lawrence on Thursday evening for a rally.

“He can tell everyone himself that voting is more important than the game!” wrote Heather Getz.

Burdett Loomis, a professor of political science at KU, said the lack of flexibility is more an unfortunate coincidence than any conspiracy by Democratic decision-makers to favor Hillary Clinton.

“If it shows you any power at all, it’s being exercised not by the political parties, not by the candidates but by ESPN,” Loomis said. “If ESPN wants the game to be played then, the game gets to be played then.”

If the Shockers win their first game on Friday at the MVC Tournament in St. Louis, Saturday’s semifinal game is scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m.

Oliver Morrison: 316-268-6499, @ORMorrison

Presidential candidates to visit Kansas


Sen. Ted Cruz is stopping at Johnson County Community College at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday (doors open at 5:30 p.m.).

Sen. Marco Rubio is scheduled to come to Wichita on Friday at 1:45 p.m. (doors open at 12:45 p.m.) at the Colonel James Jabara Airport, Hangar 9, 3512 N. Webb Road.


Sen. Bernie Sanders is going to be in Lawrence on Thursday at 7 p.m. (doors open at 4 p.m.) at the Douglas County 4-H Fairgrounds community building, 1930 Harper St. RSVPs are strongly recommended, according to the campaign.