Local Columnists

Dave Helling: The ballot has become another partisan battleground

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach file photo

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican, says Kansans should be able to cast a straight-ticket ballot, where a voter could select all of a party’s nominees by checking just one box.

“It’s a matter of voter convenience,” he told reporters last week.

That would be news to former state Sen. John Loudon of Missouri, also a Republican. In the mid-2000s he sponsored legislation that ended straight-ticket voting in his state, claiming it confused voters. “There’s really no virtue to it at all,” he said then.

Now, reasonable politicians can disagree on issues, but both Republicans can’t be right. Straight-ticket balloting either helps voters or hurts them.

But the fact that two members of the same party disagree so sharply — in two different states — suggests their views are less about voter convenience and more about manipulating outcomes at the voting booth.

Loudon was clear on this. He said he wanted to end the practice because of an “explosion” of Democratic straight-ticket balloting in St. Louis County. And at the time, four out of five Kansas City voters cast straight-ticket ballots, almost always for Democrats.

In Kansas, by contrast, straight-ticket voting would likely help Republicans because of their registration advantage. Enter Kobach.

Kansans have a serious case of outrage fatigue. But let’s hope they can summon at least some anger at this latest attempt to manipulate polling rules for partisan purposes.

Last fall, the courts repeatedly shot down Kobach’s attempt to keep Democrat Chad Taylor on the U.S. Senate ballot. (“The law is very clear,” Kobach said at the time. Apparently, not clear enough.)

He pushed through a voter ID law. He tried to limit some registrants to casting ballots only in federal races. He now wants the right to prosecute voter fraud.

Does anyone think Kobach took those steps to make voting easier? No.

Don’t let Democrats off the hook. Already some in Kansas are saying straight-ticket voting is bad for democracy, the exact opposite of what Missouri Democrats said in 2006 when they fought to protect the practice. Partisan Democrats wanted to keep Taylor off the ballot.

If Kansas is truly interested in voter convenience, it could combine straight-ticket voting with same-day registration, like Iowa. More mail-in elections would be good, too.

Voting should be convenient, accurate, widely available — and fair. It should not be a place for partisan games.

To reach Dave Helling, call 816-234-4656 or send email to dhelling@kcstar.com.

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