Kansas Voters Who Want to Switch Parties Must Do so Earlier to Vote in the Primaries

by | May 9, 2014 AT 3:40 PM

By Rick Plumlee

As a new state law takes effect, Kansas voters wanting to switch parties before the Aug. 5 primary will have to do so by July 1. And the time frame will be even shorter for future elections, when the date will be bumped up a month earlier.

Unaffiliated voters can still make their party selection on primary Election Day. The state's Democratic Party, however, recently joined the Republicans in requiring an unaffiliated voter to join its party before voting that day, a party official said.

Prior to this year, individuals could change party affiliation until 21 days before a primary election. This year, that would have been July 15.

But under the law adopted through House Bill 2210, party switching isn't allowed from June 1 -- or the first business day after that date -- until after primary results are certified.

State law requires certification to take place by Sept. 1.

Voters will get an extra month this year because new state laws don't take effect until July 1. Laws can take effect earlier if they are published in the Kansas Register, the state's official newspaper.

HB 2210's language, however, didn't make the required provision for it to be published in the register, said Brad Bryant, the state's election director. So by default the law goes into effect July 1, he added.

"In future election cycles, the date will be June 1," Bryant said. HB 2210 was pushed forward by the Kansas Republican Party.

The legislation was started a year ago and was passed by the House in 2013. But it had to wait until 2014 to get the Senate's approval and Gov. Sam Brownback's signature, said Kelly Arnold, state GOP chair.

"We were thinking the bill would get through last year," Arnold said, "and we'd have plenty of time for it to go into effect for this year's election."

But since the bill was passed by the Senate without amendments, Arnold said, it was decided not to add language requiring the law be published in the register. That change would have required the bill going to a conference committee and back to the House for a vote.

Republican legislators also opted against a cleanup bill to add the language, Arnold said.

"There were so many other things going on," he said, "and it was a minor issue."

The state's Republican Party wanted the change because its leaders have said Democrats and others were switching to the GOP for primary elections in order to vote for the weakest candidate or vote for one most in line with their political thinking.

Third-party groups also campaigned to have people switch parties for the same reason, Arnold said.

"The primaries are for political parties to decide who their candidate is without third parties meddling," he said.

Joan Wagnon, chair of the state's Democratic Party, agreed that primaries should be for parties picking their candidates.

But she noted that the deadline for candidates to file to be placed on the ballot is also June 1 -- or the first business day after that date.

"To require a person to declare their party before they know who the candidates are seems a bit ridiculous," she said.

Deadline for voter registration remains three weeks prior to primary Election Day, Bryant said. For this year's August primary, that deadline is July 15.

Information published by the Secretary of State's Office hasn't caught up to all the changes, though.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the calendar page for the office's voter website -- voteks.org -- still had July 15 as the deadline to make party affiliation changes.

State officials are in the process of updating the website and some voter literature, Bryant said.

As for the Election Day change, Wagnon said the 300 elected delegates attending the Democrats' state convention in February voted to require unaffiliated voters wanting a Democratic ballot at a primary to register with its party at that time.

That had been a state Republican requirement since 2004, Bryant said.

He acknowledged that a voter could work around the new state law by registering as unaffiliated, waiting until the primary Election Day to declare a party and then switching back to unaffiliated status after the election.

"It is one of the options," Bryant said. "Our counties will probably have some people figure that out."

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