Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Kansas Committee Divided Over Whether to Cancel 2016 Presidential Primary

The Kansas state Senate Committee on Ethics and Elections met Wednesday, February 25. On the agenda was SB 239, the bill that would cancel the presidential primary in the Sunflower state for the sixth consecutive cycle.

The path to that regular cancellation may have found some resistance during the 2016 presidential nomination cycle. The Associated Press is reporting that while a vote was not taken on the measure in committee today, committee member and Senate president, Susan Wagle (R-30th, Wichita), voiced opposition to the move.

This sets up in Kansas what was a somewhat common dispute across the country in state capitals during the 2012 cycle: a legislature potentially split over the savings associated with not holding a presidential primary (or holding a consolidated primary including a presidential preference vote) on one hand, or attempting to draw in more candidate attention/spending and encouraging wider voter participation by holding a primary on the other.

According to the fiscal note appended to SB 239, canceling the presidential primary would save Kansas $1.8 million in 2016.

However, Kansas does have some quirks to its elections law concerning the presidential primary. The only guidance the statute provides is that the secretary of state certify with the governor and the leadership in the state legislature an election date 1) on the same date as at least five other states and 2) barring that, on a date before the first Tuesday in April.

At this point in time, the only date on the 2016 presidential primary calendar before April with five or more states conducting primaries or caucuses is March 1, the target of the SEC primary.

But here's the thing: How much attention would a Kansas primary gain on a date shared with mostly southern states? Kansas would be much more likely to get lost in the shuffle on March 1, failing to garner the attention primary proponents like Sen. Wagle are seeking.

Also odd in this case is the fact that the person who would gain the most in all of this would be the Kansas secretary of state. Secretary Kris Koback (R) would be granted similar date-setting power to that of secretaries of state in New Hampshire and Georgia. But Secretary Kobach is the one spearheading the effort to cancel the presidential primary in 2016.

If there ends up being a stalemate on canceling the Kansas presidential primary, it does not look if either side would get what it wants. The history here is pretty clear though. Five straight cancelled presidential primaries is a consistent pattern and an even clearer signal about where this all may end up.

UPDATE (3/5/15): Identical House bill introduced

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