It’s no great surprise that the Kansas Senate on Wednesday approved a measure that would prohibit Kansans from switch political parties between June 1 and Sept. 1.
Nor would it be surprising, in the unlikely event that Democrats controlled the Kansas Legislature, for them to support such a measure, whose practical effect is to keep members of one party from shaping results in the opponent’s party primary election. Its unstated purpose is to consolidate the power of the majority party — or perhaps the controlling faction of the majority party.
These days, that’s conservative Republicans. And they don’t risk losing power in primary elections in which Democrats switch parties temporarily to support moderate Republicans. Thus, all 27 senators voting for the bill Wednesday were conservatives. Of the 12 who opposed it, eight were Democrats — that’s how many Democrats remain in the Senate — and the rest were the four remaining moderate Republicans.
Conservatives needn’t wax righteous in extolling the bill’s virtues, as some did. Said state Sen. Julia Lynn, a conservative from Olathe: “Stealing elections and manipulating elections is not what the democratic process is about.”
Yet what the conservative Republican majority is doing in outmaneuvering political adversaries is manipulating the primary system to protect themselves. It isn’t pretty, but it’s effective.
Jean Schodorf is painfully aware of how effective it can be. She’s a former moderate Republican state senator who became a Democrat after being run over by a conservative steamroller in the 2012 GOP primary. She now hopes to oust Kris Kobach as secretary of state. Mr Kobach supported the Senate bill, saying it would thwart “tactical or mischievous” party switching.
Ms. Schodorf issued a statement after Wednesday’s Senate vote saying, “Our state government should not use its power to limit an individual’s right to vote in an election because one party or another is losing voters, or because they don’t like the way citizens are voting.”
Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat who’s Senate minority leader, contends that the bill, which already has passed and awaits Gov. Sam Brownback’s signature, “disenfranchises Kansas voters.”
Certainly the bill would prevent Kansas voters from changing parties after the candidate filing date — when the public is more likely to think about primary elections. And some Kansans might not get to vote for the candidate of their choice, a key principal of our democratic system.
But the fact is, Kansans would still have nine months to change parties or simply to switch their party affiliation to “unaffiliated.” The latter status, unaffected by this legislation, allows Kansas voters to choose their party affiliation at the primary election.
Kansan voters who think the conservative majority in the Republican Party is going too far aren’t helpless. They’ll even still be able to switch parties before primary elections. But if this bill becomes law — it’s hard to imagine Gov. Brownback vetoing it — voters will have to make that decision a good two months before the primary election.