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Switching parties

3/26/2014

Kansas lawmakers have changed state statutes once again to prevent an imaginary problem.

Kansas lawmakers have changed state statutes once again to prevent an imaginary problem.

As soon as House Bill 2210 reached his desk, Gov. Sam Brownback signed it into law. Once it takes effect, Kansas voters will be prohibited from changing their political party affiliation in any election year from the date of the deadline for candidates to file for office until the August primary results are certified.

Both the state Republican Party and the Secretary of State's Office strongly supported the legislation, designed to prevent Democrats from voting in GOP primaries. They didn't state their testimony that way but since a contested Democratic primary election happens as often in Kansas as packs of wild elephants are seen roaming the plains, they might as well have.

"There should be no meddling in each other's elections," said state GOP Chairman Kelly Arnold.

None of the proponents could produce any evidence such party-switching was taking place for nefarious reasons. For them, just knowing it might happen was enough.

"If this is done in even one election, that is one election too many," said Sen. Julia Lynn, a conservative Olathe Republican. "Stealing elections and manipulating elections is not what the democratic process is all about."

We would agree stealing and manipulating elections is not what the democratic process is all about. But we also would offer infringing on any U.S. citizen's right to vote their conscience is not what the democratic process is all about. Nor the Constitution for that matter. The right of eligible citizens to vote for the candidate of their choosing is one of the hallmarks of this great nation.

Of course, Kansas limits that right during primary elections. Both of the dominant political parties have elected to go with closed primaries, which means the voting citizen has to choose which ballot they would like prior to entering the booth.

The new law further restricts the process by not allowing individuals to switch declared parties for approximately three months every other year.

The state's chief election officer, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, said the law would save time and money for county election offices since there would be fewer party affiliation changes to administer. County election officers likely would appreciate that, since Kobach is forcing them to run a two-tier election process to accommodate state- and federal-registered voters.

We would advise those election officers not to hold their breath, because the savings never will materialize. If party-switching to mess with elections is not taking place, as many Democrats and moderate Republicans maintain, then the paperwork will remain the same at the county level.

But if conservative Republicans are correct about the underhanded gamesmanship, those individuals simply will modify the tactic. Instead of declaring themselves Republicans, they'll register as unaffiliated. The law still allows these voters to select the ballot of their choice on Election Day. Whichever party they choose at that time will result in the county election office recognizing that affiliation -- until the person revisits and switches back to unaffiliated.

How could such an obviously flawed remedy for a non-existent problem make it into law? It's easy when the legislation is prepackaged cookie-cutter fodder from the American Legislative Exchange Council. That group is funneling bills through statehouses throughout the country that, unfortunately for us, don't receive scrutiny or honest debate before emerging from both houses.

Prohibiting party-switching for three months out of every two years will not fix a thing, either because there was nothing to fix or because the solution is practically worthless. That it stands as law is nothing to be proud of.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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