Let me start with some background. We hold our primary on even numbered years and on the first Tuesday of August. Historically, Democrats have had so few contested primaries there is little awareness that a primary exists. Making it worse, in the summer, a vast majority of voters are way too busy with all the summer distractions to even know the campaigns are going on. The impact, I think, is it puts a special value on the last few days with the advantages going to candidates that have significant money on hand.
Now, in terms of the structure and laws that govern our elections, Tuesday night has left some critical points in my mind about the value of more open primaries and some other adjustments that could help elevate the citizen voice in our government. First off, having a closed primary—where voters must be registered with the party they intend to vote with in advance of the election (a registration date that was recently moved up by Kansas election laws)—adds unnecessary complications for voters who are simply trying to exercise their right to vote. Many voters do not adhere strictly to a party line or change parties frequently based on shifting priorities and dynamics in our politics, and these are precisely the voters whose voices are diminished by a closed primary. So why not open up the process and allow anyone to register (on Election Day and during early voting) and vote for any candidate of their choosing? As we have seen in the ongoing county election canvases, this complication (and the interpretation of the laws set out by our Legislature and Governor) will likely decide the winner of the Republican Primary for Governor.
In addition, from Tuesday’s results, I want to put on the table for discussion moving up our primary to allow time for a runoff election if the winning candidate does not have 50% of the vote. This would not have impacted the Democratic Governors race but would have the Congressional race in the Third District and for the Republicans both in the Governor’s race and Second District for Congress. If the winner has less than 50% of the vote, the top two would duel it out say 30 days later. Yes, that is expensive, but it might be the incentive we need to shift to mail ballots, something that has worked well in states like Washington where the turnout is much higher for elections at all levels.
Personally, I think the Governor’s race for the Republicans shows the huge value of having a runoff election. For example, let’s assume the current numbers hold up and Kobach wins a very close race with Governor Colyer. Kobach was probably helped by three candidates going after him and splitting up the vote. One-on-one, the Governor might have won easily and in my opinion, with those results, the Republicans would have their top candidate—which, regardless of partisan feelings, we should want.
The crowded field for the Republicans in the 2nd Congressional district is another example where I would contend the winner would not survive a runoff and again leave the Republicans with less than their best going forward. Now, as a fan of Paul Davis for this year, I guess the current system is okay. But in this case, it was also an example, as was the Governor’s race, where huge contributions came from one donor, obviously impacting the results, where a one-on-one would likely lead to a different candidate coming out on top.
As the votes continue to be counted in the close and undecided Republican Primary for Governor, we will see what other lessons may become clear from this hotly contested race. But one thing is certain: This Primary Election will have long-lasting implications for the future of Kansas. So let’s hope we learn our lessons well.