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With the August 5 primary only a day away, some thoughts of the state of democracy in Kansas seem appropriate. An article in Friday's Wichita Eagle predicting  low turnout for Tuesday's primary, despite heated US Senate and House Republican primaries, indicates that there is a real problem. Here are some thoughts.

 The biggest issue, in my opinion, is the restrictive voter ide ntification laws enacted by Secretary of Sate Kris Kobach, but there are others.

Another problem is outsider dark money which has poured into Kansas elections at the last minute with minimal transparency, minimal honesty, and minimal respect for the facts.

Kansas has a closed primary, only one of 12 in the nation.  That means that you have to be a registered Democrat or Republican to vote in the respective primary.  However, the chair of the party can allow independents to vote in their primary. In recent elections Democrats had allowed this. This year the KDP, at its February state convention,  joined the Republicans in adopting the more restrictive policy.

The Kansas legislature at the prodding of Kris Kobach made it more difficult for voters to change party registration. In the past this could be done up to 21 days before the election. This year the deadline was moved back to July 1 and in future elections it will be June 1.  If I understand correctly, there will be different deadlines to change party registration and to change from unaffiliated to a party.  Unaffiliated voters can still  choose a Republican or Democratic ballot at the polling place on election day, thereby register with their chosen party and vote in their primary.

Kansas Democrats have filed a full Federal and state-wide slate.  In 2010, Democrats had no candidate in the prohibitively Republican Big First District and no candidate in the potential swing 3rd Congressional District. (The 3rd gave Obama 48.8 percent in 2008 and 44.3 percent in 2012.)

Far too many Kansas voters won't have a choice on their ballot for the state legislature this November. Forty-seven seats, nearly 40 percent of the state's 125 House seats, will  have only one candidate on the ballot.  This includes 38 Republicans.  And, of these, only 16 have a Republican primary challenger.  Also, two Republicans will face only a Libertarian challenger.  Nine Democrats will face no challenger, and two will have only a Libertarian challenger.

The same problem crops up in the State Board of Eduction races where Democrats filed candidates for only one of the five seats up this year; they filed for only two when the same set of seats were up in 2010. And, for three of the different set of five seats up in 2012.

It would take a detailed analysis to figure out what is behind this low state of competitive elections.  From what I can tell it's not just a Kansas problem and it's not new.  A 2005 article reported that "state legislative races were even less competitive [than Congressional races.] Nationwide, 40 percent of the more than 7,000 races were uncontested."

Parties can put energy into recruiting as many candidates as possible, even in districts that are very strongly partisan for the other party.  Or, they can concentrate resources on a smaller number of swing districts. I don't know if a switch like can explain the poor number of Democratic candidates, but it is certainly possible.

Campaign finance reform, some form of public financing of legislative campaigns might increase the number of districts with races.  One possibility, for example, has had a system where candidates can get public financing after they show a basis of support, raising, say, $50 each for 100 district voters. Arizona has a system somewhat like this.

Ballot access for parties and candidates is the other side of the right to vote.  On the positive side, the Kansas legislature passed a law allowing out of state canvassers for petition drives.  (It is not obvious to me that this is a good development, but courts have been ruling this way so it seems a positive.)

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach changed the interpretation of state law making it more difficult for minor parties to remain on the ballot and ruled the Reform Party off the ballot. In 2012, Kobach argued successfully that Kansas did not have to allow voters register in unqualified parties that are active in the state.

To be established as a new political party in Kansas, the group must present petitions must be signed by qualified electors equal in number to at least two percent of the total vote cast for all candidates for governor at the last preceding general election. In Kansas, currently, that would mean 16,777 valid petition signatures.

To nominate an independent candidate for statewide evidence takes just 5,000 signatures.

To maintain party ballot status, a qualified party must get one percent of the vote in the lowest voted race it contests. In 2010, that threshold would have been 6,772 in the Commissioner of Insurance race.

If a minor party gets five percent of the vote in the Governor's race it will become a "major party" and thereby hold primaries instead of conventions.  That is a major goal of Kansas Libertarians  in the belief that being port of a statewide primary along with Republicans and Democrats will give them the potential for further growth. They may be helped by the demise of the Reform Party as there have been several statewide races where the LP +RP vote came to 4.4 percent (2010 Governor) or 4.2 percent (2006 Secretary of State).  Libertarian Patrick Wilber received 4.2 percent in the three-way 2006 Insurance Commissioner race.  With Libertarian nominee Keen A. Umbehr drawing five percent in the latest SurveyUSA poll that Libertarian goal doesn't appear unreasonable, although there is usually a fall off from polls to election results.

Perhaps if the Libertarian Party achieved "major party" status (with five percent of the vote) they might field more than seven legislative candidates they have in 2012. And, that could increase participation.

Perhaps if there were additional parties--a Moderate Party,  Constitution Party, a Working Families Party, or others there might be more competitive elections, a higher turnout, and better state government.

But, I think, there is a limit to the potential of additional minor parties to enhance participation and increase democracy.  Kansas is one of a vast majority of states that ban fusion voting.  By allowing a candidate to aggregate votes on more than party line, fusion voting avoids the spoiler affect when voting for a more conservative (liberal) candidate takes votes away from a slightly less conservative (liberal) candidate and thereby elects a third more liberal (conservative) candidate.   Fusion enables minor parties to influence election results and policy by offering to endorse or nominate a major party's candidate.

Wichita activists have gathered signatures to place a referendum on the ballot to decriminalize marijuana possession.  This could have the potential to increase turnout among voters who usually stay at home during off-year elections.

The real path to improving Kansas democracy will be based on re-invigorating the Democratic Party, the growth of grass-roots progressive organizations like Kansas People's Action, and a more creative and energized political effort by teachers and other unions.

Originally posted to jazzhawk2004 on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 06:03 AM PDT.

Also republished by Kansas & Missouri Kossacks and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Is the referendum to decriminalize marijuana (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MadRuth, tmservo433, CWinebrinner

    a statewide referendum?

    •  It is dismal here in KS (5+ / 0-)

      Dems and moderates have gone ALL IN for Davis for Gov - if Brownback somehow squeaks out a victory (and remember, unless Davis wins by more than recountable #s, Kobach will find a way to swing it to Brownback) the purge will be on and every last vestige of the old Republic will be swept away (lol).

      Getting the marijuana initiative on the ballot and getting some big money behind it could drive turnout and help bring some non-Brownback voters in.

      •  I know (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        kd4dean, salmo

        in my heavily Republican county, people are sick of Brownback.  My mom is one of them.  And I've gotten 3 mailings regarding Brownback (as in ANTI-Brownback) in the past 10 days.  Oh, and one from Heulskamp.  He's not even targeting his mailings-I'm a registered Dem! I can't vote for him (and I wouldn't anyway, if I had pulled a primary switch).

        To the left, to the left....

        by CWinebrinner on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 02:52:20 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Wichita only... (5+ / 0-)

      referendum on decriminalize marijuana is only on the Wichita ballot. The city still has to certify enough signatures were gathered and there could be a few more twists. There is no provision for citizen-initiated referendums in the state.

      •  Jennifer Winn and other candidates (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        CWinebrinner, kd4dean, eztempo

        Are being propped up solely on the legalization issue, as farmers groups on the western Kansas/Colorado border are spending all they have to back up pro-hemp/pot candidates because they think they are fighting to save their farms.

        Gandhi's Seven Sins: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Commerce without morality; Science without humanity; Worship without sacrifice; Politics without principle
        >Follow @tmservo433

        by Chris Reeves on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 09:10:47 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Interesting (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          kd4dean

          I wonder what the water usage is for growing hemp or marijuana?  I can't imagine it's higher than corn, which is most of what they are attempting to grow out west.

          To the left, to the left....

          by CWinebrinner on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 02:48:29 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Not that different, or um so I've heard (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            kd4dean, CWinebrinner

            But who knows what the yield dependencies on water would be, and which varieties to compare? Both pretty important in Kansas.

            •  Interesting (0+ / 0-)

              I was all set to refute your statement, but I found out it's pretty accurate.

              Corn, according to the Nebraska figures I found, needs a total of from 24 to 28 inches of water, depending on the topography of the region-more water is needed in the high desert than in the temperate eastern part of the state.  Doesn't sound like much until you find that an inch of rain is the equivalent of over 27,000 gallons of water per acre.

              I did some looking to see how much water wheat takes as a comparison, and wheat apparently needs around 22 inches of total water, so your statement doesn't sound as far out there as I thought it was.

              To the left, to the left....

              by CWinebrinner on Tue Aug 05, 2014 at 12:35:14 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

  •  Recruiting candidates this year.. (9+ / 0-)

    Was pretty difficult :(   We met with a lot of candidates in a lot of districts and were turned down a lot.

    That said, we recruited more candidates in 2014 than we recruited in 2012 or 2010.   It's a start.    If we can get some of them wins, it will actually say something.

    This is where it gets interesting.  There are several races - Olathe, Wichita, Hutchinson, Gardner that are mixed and open ground for Democrats - with good numbers and representation there.  

    If Democrats can turn over those state seats, it will validate this as a strategy

    Gandhi's Seven Sins: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Commerce without morality; Science without humanity; Worship without sacrifice; Politics without principle
    >Follow @tmservo433

    by Chris Reeves on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 08:56:15 AM PDT

    •  Interesting... (5+ / 0-)

      there do seem to be a number of potential Democratic pickups in the Kansas legislature.  Whether looking at districts that were won by the traditional swing district of 55% of less or by districts where Obama did fairly well in Kansas (40% of more), there might be 12-15 prime opportunities.  

      Good candidates can win in less favorable grounds.

      •  I think that my district, (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        kd4dean, Odysseus, eztempo

        the 73rd House (McPherson County, minus two towns) is an open race, even with having an incumbent-no one knows who the heck Les Mason even is.  He just happened to get chosen by the Republican PTB.

        Von Peterson is a well known figure, has lived in McPherson County his whole life, and now is self employed as the owner of SMR Memorials, which means he gets out and meets a lot of people.  But our party is so fractured in McPherson that it's like torture to find people to help with his campaign.
        Still, he's got a facebook page up, and has a Paypal donations account opened as well.

        To the left, to the left....

        by CWinebrinner on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 03:01:59 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  More parties is often a bad answer. (7+ / 0-)
    Perhaps if there were additional parties--a Moderate Party,  Constitution Party, a Working Families Party, or others there might be more competitive elections, a higher turnout, and better state government.
    First, there's not often a lot of ideological distance between minor parties and one of the major parties.

    Second, without some kind of fusion voting or Ranked Choice/Instant Runoff voting, high support for minor parties generates the spoiler effect.

    Third parties have a very poor record of getting elected even in small districts, and rarely do well in statewide races.  IL-Gov 2006 and CO-Gov 2010 are very rare exceptions.

    Fourth, what usually happens is that every party files for the same races, and many races still go completely unchallenged.  It's not clear to me at all that more parties = more contested races.

    -7.75 -4.67

    "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."

    There are no Christians in foxholes.

    by Odysseus on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 09:13:23 AM PDT

    •  do-it-yourself fusion voting (0+ / 0-)

      Just as an example, take the Greens and the Dems. They should cut a deal with the following terms:

      1. Till mid-October, the Green candidate and the Dem candidate will pursue their separate campaigns.

      2. In mid-October, whichever candidate is behind will withdraw and endorse the other candidate.

      3. In return for the endorsement, the remaining candidate pledges to support X if he/she takes office.

      X is something important to the withdrawing candidate. It should be agreed on ahead of time.

      The deal should not be secret; it should be announced publicly, at a big press conference, early in the election season.

      Of course, in the first few elections the Green candidate would withdraw and endorse the Dem. But because the Green campaign would matter to both election outcome and post-election policy, people would pay attention to the Greens. The Greens would have a real opportunity to expand their support in each election. After several election cycles, it might be the Dem who has to withdraw -- or to "greenify" his (or her) platform to compete for Green votes.

      AND -- most importantly, of course -- this would strengthen everybody on the left's chances of BEATING THE DAMN REPUBLICANS.

      "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

      by HeyMikey on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 09:35:35 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I suspect that would backfire. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        CWinebrinner, eztempo
        The deal should not be secret; it should be announced publicly, at a big press conference, early in the election season.
        People seem to expect that being a candidate for a party means you will see it through to the end.  If there is going to be this kind of cross-endorsement, it needs to be done early and openly as you suggest, but without ever fielding a candidate for the party which cross-endorses.

        -7.75 -4.67

        "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."

        There are no Christians in foxholes.

        by Odysseus on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 10:24:24 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  not either/or—both (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          CWinebrinner

          Hey, as a Democrat tired of losing--and of having too few votes to break a filibuster even when we win-- and as a human tired of the globe warming faster and faster, I'd be happy if Greens and Dems found ANY way of working together. Let's field two candidates in some races and one joint Green-Dem candidate in other races, repeat 100 times, and see which proves more effective. Then do that more.

          "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

          by HeyMikey on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 12:55:50 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Good points... (0+ / 0-)

      I tried to make the same argument  about the spoiler effect and fusion voting but you did so more forcefully.  I agree with you that more minor parties is the magic bullet answer to the problem of a lack of competition.  

      But when there is such a lack of competition for state legislative seats in Kansas and throughout the nation there is a real problem that deserves far more attention than it has gotten.

    •  I'm all for more parties ... on the Right (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Odysseus

      The more parties that split the Republican vote the better. On the other hand, Democrats should focus on building our own party and not get distracted by "too-cute-by-half" coalition/fusion strategies of proliferating parties that split our vote.

  •  Outside dark money in Kansas? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    YucatanMan, CWinebrinner, kd4dean

    Gee, wonder where THAT is coming from.  Hint: the asshole's name is on Wichita State's basketball arena.

    30, white male, TX-07 (current), TN-09 (born), TN-08 (where parents live now)

    by TDDVandy on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 10:05:13 AM PDT

    •  Koch's aren't the only ones (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kansaster, eztempo

      There is independent spending for Todd Tiahrt and against Mike Pompeo by Americans for Responsible Government (Wink Hartman) and Every Voice Action, which is associated with support for public financing of campaigns.

      Americans for Prosperity, Koch linked of course, is spending over $400,000 for Pompeo.

      The Now or Never PAC, which hasn't been linked to the Koch's, has spent over $200,000 against Tim Huelskamp.  

      The Club for Growth did spend $100,000 against Jim Barnett is the 2010 1st District Republican primary.

  •  Fusion voting has not worked in New York State (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Odysseus, eztempo

    The Working Families Party was a purported attempt at keeping the Democrats honest.  But over the 15 or 20 years of its existence it has gradually become a paper tiger that never exercised its true power.  In the wake of their recent deal with Governor Hydrofracking Corruption, the WFP has destroyed its credibility.  I wouldn't indict the system of fusion voting, which I still think is a good idea.  But it requires practical people, skilled at political organizing, to take advantage of its virtues.  In an environment of low democratic participation, it's no surprise that we don't see potential leaders coming forward.

    Shirley Chisholm was right. Our Republic is in deep trouble.

    by Big River Bandido on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 02:20:45 PM PDT

  •  What does a Kansas Democrat look like these days? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kd4dean, Odysseus

    I cant imagine being able to run on my conscience  - pro-choice, pro-tax, pro-education, anti state religion, anti-gun.  Heck I couldn't even get traction with anti-illegal immigration because my solution is to punish employers (people dont risk their lives for the great Kansas Weather, they need jobs).

    The last Dem campaign I worked on was Carlin for Congress (just found my t-shirt doing cleaning this weekend!).  I cant imagine a "Dean Democrat" (From the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party) let alone a Great Society Democrat managing more than a handful of votes.  

    Hoping I am wrong.

    It is well that war is so terrible -- lest we should grow too fond of it. Robert E. Lee

    by ksuwildkat on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 02:38:02 PM PDT

    •  And yet there are quite a few of us. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kansaster, kd4dean, eztempo

      I know my candidate (73rd District House; Von Peterson) is pretty much aligned with your whole platform as laid out above, with the exception of anti-gun; there's too many hunters in our area (or maybe you are meaning assault weapons?).  

      To the left, to the left....

      by CWinebrinner on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 03:09:22 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  good to hear (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        kd4dean, eztempo, CWinebrinner

        and I did mean anti-stupid gun.  Im a gun owner but I believe in registration.  If I can register my car, I can register my gun.  I am also in favor of gun insurance - just like cars.  For the reasonable people who have a hunting rifle, a bird shot shotgun and a revolver it would be pretty reasonable.  But a collection of AKs, ARs, Glocks and street sweepers?  You are going to pay.  

        Please let us know how Mr. Peterson does!

        It is well that war is so terrible -- lest we should grow too fond of it. Robert E. Lee

        by ksuwildkat on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 03:21:38 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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