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SPOTLIGHT
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Election turnout

Published on -8/5/2014, 9:19 AM

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Last week, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach predicted 22 percent of registered voters would take part in today's primary election.

While such a press release is a time-honored tradition of the office, the wording and logic contained in this one points out how little attention Kobach pays to details. That is not a good sign for an office that should pride itself on the finer points of elections -- yet not surprising given how little time the current secretary actually dedicates to the job he was elected to do.

The release is headlined "Kobach predicts higher primary turnout" and is followed by his observation that "2008 is the primary election cycle most similar to 2014 in recent times."

The conveniently attached statistics from the past five primary contests reveal the only election that had less than 22 percent turnout was in 2006. As to why Kobach would think a presidential election year in 2008 was the most similar to 2014's non-presidential contest defies imagination. Both incorrect assertions do, however, show Kobach's inability to grasp even the most basic understandings of his charge.

And that is too bad. Primary elections are incredibly important, despite being skipped by the vast majority of registered voters and garnering only scant attention from the state's top election officer.

In Kansas, more general elections are decided with the primary date simply because of the usual lack of formidable opponents from the opposing party. Add on top of that the decidedly lower turnout, and not many people influence what the entire population is treated or subjected to for the next two, four or six years.

Let's take a glance at 2010, which actually is the most recent similar primary election cycle prior to this year. In Ellis County, the Census Bureau had 28,452 listed as the population at that time. Of those people, 22,249 were 18 or older. Only 17,303 of those were registered to vote, and then a mere 5,487 actually cast a ballot during the primary election.

On that Election Day, here's how the eventual overall winners fared in Ellis County. Jerry Moran received 3,607 tallies in his first run for the U.S. Senate; the Sam Brownback-Jeff Colyer ticket garnered 3,260 votes on their way to victory, and Tim Huelskamp pulled 830 marks in a crowded field.

Although these politicians craft policy that affects 100 percent of the 28,452 Ellis Countians, Moran only can boast 12.7 percent of those citizens actually voted for him. The governor can claim only 11.5 percent. And Rep. Huelskamp? A paltry 2.9 percent. That is just the way the math works.

Unfortunately, it's also just the way our democratic republic works as well. There are no minimum thresholds of participation to be met. But it is becoming the norm.

"The fact we have turnouts of around 20 percent and lower is a warning sign for democracies," said Chapman Rackaway, a political science professor at Fort Hays State University, in a recent interview with the Wichita Eagle. "It's a bad sign."

But wait, it can -- and did -- get worse. Courtesy of Kobach-inspired and lawmaker-approved legislation to make voting more onerous, there are 18,260 Kansans whose eligibility remains in limbo. In an effort to combat non-existent voter fraud, the secretary of state is doing his utmost to suppress turnout -- particularly amongst minority residents.

We would hope all those who fulfilled their civic duty are wearing their "I voted" stickers proudly. Unless things change, the one-person, one-vote theory will remain just that. For the time being, those who vote carry a much bigger stick than their neighbors. We'll see if those sticks were used to effect needed change when the polls close.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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