Thursday, October 02, 2014

Rule change would target party switching before primary elections

By KAITLYN KLEIN and By HANNAH SWANK, KU Statehouse Wire Service | 3/14/2014

TOPEKA — Fear that voters are switching parties to influence the outcome of the opposing party’s primary election motivated legislators to pass a floor vote on a bill in the Kansas Senate.

House Bill 2210 moves the deadline for changing party affiliation from no less than 14 days before any election to not allowing party affiliation changes during primary election season — from the primary candidate filing deadline to the results of the primary.

TOPEKA — Fear that voters are switching parties to influence the outcome of the opposing party’s primary election motivated legislators to pass a floor vote on a bill in the Kansas Senate.

House Bill 2210 moves the deadline for changing party affiliation from no less than 14 days before any election to not allowing party affiliation changes during primary election season — from the primary candidate filing deadline to the results of the primary.

State Sen. Mitch Holmes, R- St. John, introduced the bill saying its purpose is narrowly focused to protect the integrity of primary elections.

However, nearly two hours of debate about the intentions of the bill and possible repercussions followed.

State Sen. Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, called the bill an “incumbent protection bill.”

“If you vote for this bill that’s essentially what you’re doing,” Hensley said. “You’re protecting yourself from a future primary opponent.”

He asked Holmes whether he knew how widespread the problem reached. Holmes said it was “hard to quantify,” but common from accounts he’s heard.

Hensley said the bill disenfranchises voters but Holmes said the bill had nothing to do with voter registration.

“This bill affects someone’s right to vote in no way whatsoever,” Holmes said.

Although Hensley acknowledged party switching to influence election outcomes does indeed occur, he said the problem is not significant enough to require a law change.  

State Sen. Julia Lynn, R-Olathe, disagreed.

“If this is done in even one election, that is one election too many,” Lynn said.  

Later in the debate, Hensley asked Lynn to point to one election in Kansas that was “stolen” because of these party switching tactics.

Lynn declined to give a specific instance, but said it was “common knowledge” that it happens and that it affects elections across the country.

Abbie Hodgson, secretary for the Douglas County Democratic Party, said Republicans in the Legislature are wasting taxpayer time on a problem that doesn’t exist and there is not a great number of Democrats changing parties to skew primary elections.

“The Democrats I know that are registered as Republican are registered that way throughout the year,” Hodgson said. “This allows them to vote in more primary elections, become more engaged in the voting process and have more of a say in who represents them.”

While Hodgson said she didn’t think the bill would have a dramatic effect on election outcomes, it would become a challenging obstacle for voters and a means of restricting votes.

Several amendments were proposed and failed during the debate.

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