Government & Politics

Kris Kobach proposes bills to return straight-ticket voting, change election-withdraw procedure

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach AP

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach alerted lawmakers this week that he will again seek the power to prosecute voter fraud, and also is proposing two other voter bills.

Meeting with the House Elections Committee on Wednesday, Kobach introduced two measures that were accepted without objection: straight-ticket party voting and making death the only excuse for withdrawing a candidate’s name from an election.

Kobach first attempted to gain prosecutorial powers in 2013, but the effort failed at the end of the session when the House rejected his request 45-64.

The most common form of voter fraud, double voting, is occurring with some frequency in Kansas, Kobach said, adding that it’s what is driving the bill he plans to submit to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“There’s some crimes the only way you can address them is by deterrence,” he said.

The first of Kobach’s election committee bills would allow voters to check a single box to cast a vote for every member of a political party on the ballot. Kobach said it would cut down on the number of people who vote in major races but leave the rest of the ballot blank.

“I think it will improve participation in races down the ballot and it’s a matter of voter convenience, too,” Kobach said.

Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat who serves on the elections committee, called straight-ticket voting a relic of his grandparents’ time.

“That does not contribute to the electorate making a meaningful choice,” he said. “Instead it just encourages mindless voting based solely on partisan politics and that is not good for the democratic process.”

Kobach’s second bill would change the state law that allows a candidate nominated in a primary to withdraw before the general election by turning in a statement that he or she is incapable of serving in the office. Instead, the only way a candidate’s name could be removed would be for that person to die after the primary and before Sept. 1. The candidate’s party would be required to appoint a replacement.

The bill is in response to a situation last year in which Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Chad Taylor abruptly dropped out of the race, leaving independent Greg Orman to face incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Roberts. Kobach fought to keep Taylor on the ballot, and then to force the Democrats to name a replacement, but the Kansas Supreme Court allowed Taylor to withdraw and a special court panel ruled that Democrats didn’t have to name a replacement.

Rep. Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat who serves on the House Judiciary Committee, said the measure isn’t worth the Legislature’s time.

“Most people have moved on to the budget and education crisis we’re facing,” he said