Caucusing in Kansas: answers to your questions

Republicans cast their ballots during the GOP presidential caucus at Century II in downtown Wichita in 2012. Democrats and Republicans will caucus on the same day this year, on Saturday.
Republicans cast their ballots during the GOP presidential caucus at Century II in downtown Wichita in 2012. Democrats and Republicans will caucus on the same day this year, on Saturday. File photo

Kansans only caucus for president once every four years, and every time we do, there’s always uncertainty about where to go and what to do.

And this is a particularly complicated year because Democrats and Republicans will caucus on the same day – this Saturday.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been fielding questions from our readers on the intricacies of the caucus process.

Here are those questions and answers to them:

Q: If I am a registered Republican and I go vote at the Republican caucus, can I then drive across town to the Democratic caucus, change my party affiliation and vote in the Democratic caucus? Is that legal?

A: It’s legal, but is frowned upon.

Logistically, a voter who is eligible for the Republican caucus could vote there Saturday morning, then fill out a registration card switching to the Democratic Party at the Democrats’ caucus site, and caucus as a Democrat in the afternoon.

This wouldn’t violate any laws, because caucuses are not state-sanctioned elections but party events subject only to party rules for participation, according to Bryan Caskey, deputy assistant secretary of state for elections.

Technically, there’s a Democratic Party rule against caucusing with them if you’ve already caucused for another party. But as a practical matter, it would be difficult to impossible to enforce it.

Esau Freeman, vice chairman of the Sedgwick County Democratic Party, said they’ll welcome Republicans who want to switch parties, but would prefer that people don’t try to game the system. He said he thinks if anyone does caucus in both parties, it’s likely to be an isolated case that won’t affect the outcome for either party.

Q: A caucus takes a lot of time for the voter. America does not have a good reputation for the number of voters who cast their votes in an election. Will the state of Kansas consider changing caucuses to primaries for greater participation by the voters?

A: Almost certainly not. Kansas law called for primaries to be held, but the Legislature canceled every one since 1992 due to lack of money and, in some cases, lack of interest. Last year, the Legislature changed the law to permanently eliminate primaries and go with caucuses only. Given that lawmakers changed state law to do away with primaries, it’s unlikely they’ll change that back in the foreseeable future.

Q: Do I have to listen to the speeches at the caucus? Can I just cast my vote and go?

A: If you’re Republican, you can report to your caucus site anytime between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and you will get to vote. If you go to the Sedgwick County caucus site, the doors open at 8 a.m., caucusing begins at 10 a.m. with speeches on behalf of the candidates, and actual voting will begin when the speeches are finished, about 10:45-11 a.m. After that, voters can drop by, check in, cast their ballot and leave. State Republican Chairman Kelly Arnold said they will not allow voting before the speeches are finished, due to a party rule.

If you’re a Democrat, there’s really no way around the speeches because you have to be on site to be counted.

Q: What documents need to be presented to vote at the (Republican-only) caucus in St. Louis?

A: You’ll need a driver’s license, passport or other state-issued photo ID, same as if you were participating in the Republican caucus in your home county.

Democrats are not requiring an ID to participate in the caucus.

Q: I received a letter from the Hillary (Clinton) organization inviting me to caucus, but I am actually a (Bernie) Sanders supporter and would prefer caucusing for him. Is the location the same?

A: Yes, voters who wish to caucus for Clinton or Sanders go to the same place at the same time. You will be asked to stand on different sides of the room.

Q: I am new to caucusing. How does it work?

A: It depends on whether you’re a Republican or Democrat. Republican caucuses are more like a regular election while Democratic caucuses are more like a town meeting.

Republicans will begin their caucus with presentations on behalf of each candidate, followed by voting, while Democrats will gather as a group, and then move to different sides of the caucus hall to be counted in support of their candidate.

Q: Who pays for the caucus — the two parties or the state?

A: Each political party pays the cost of its own caucus. Most of the labor is provided by volunteers.

Q: I have been a registered Republican for at least 50 years, though I vote Democratic much more often than Republican. Can I change party affiliation at the caucus?

A: Yes. You can fill out a new registration card and change from Republican to Democrat at the caucus site Saturday, and then caucus with the Democrats. The party will send that card to the state and change your party affiliation, so you’d have to go change it back yourself if you wanted to go back to being a Republican.

Republicans don’t allow same-day party changes.

Q: Where do I go to caucus?

A: Republican voters can go to any caucus site in the state, or to a special site set up in St. Louis for fans of Wichita State University basketball who will be there for the “Arch Madness” Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. The site for Sedgwick County is at the Century II Convention Center.

Democrats have to caucus at the site specified for their state Senate district. See the attached list.

Q: I am an unaffiliated registered voter in Kansas. Can I walk into either the Republican or Democrat caucuses and vote?

A: It depends. As an unaffiliated voter, you can fill out a new registration card at your state Senate district’s Democratic caucus site and caucus with them. Only voters registered as Republicans by Feb. 4 can participate in that caucus.

Q: How many delegates will Kansas have at the national convention? How many from Wichita? Do the delegates from Kansas all vote the same? How does that work?

A: 1) Kansas will have 40 delegates to the Republican National Convention and 37 delegates to the Democratic National Convention. While that may seem about even, the Democrats have about twice as many delegates overall as the Republicans, so Kansas’ influence at the Democratic convention is about half that of the Republicans.

2) Delegates are not allocated or counted by city, so it’s impossible to know how many will be from Wichita.

3) Kansas delegates are allocated more or less based on the proportion of the vote that each candidate receives at the caucuses, so they won’t all be pledged to the same candidate unless one wins in a landslide across the state. It does happen, but is highly unlikely given how competitive this year’s campaigns are.

Q: I tried to pre-register for the Republican caucus, as promoted by the party, to shorten my waiting time on Saturday. I have not heard back from the party confirming my pre-registration or telling me what to do. What can I do?

A: By now, you should have gotten an e-mail confirming your pre-registration. E-mails went out this week. If you didn’t, don’t worry, you still get to participate. All pre-registration does is get you in the door a little faster.

Q: Can I caucus if I’m not old enough to vote?

A: Maybe. Democrats do allow 17-year-olds to participate in their party caucus if they fill out a registration card and will be old enough to vote in the general election Nov. 8.

Republicans only allow participation in their caucus by those who are already 18 on the day of the caucus.

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