Decision changes primary rules as filing deadline nears
Less than a week before the candidate filing deadline for the Aug. 3 primaries, the rules of this summer's primaries were changed.
Kansas GOP Chairman Dennis Jones said Friday that unaffiliated voters could vote in the party's primaries without declaring party allegiance. Jones' decision came in response to a ruling in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver that states couldn't mandate closed party primaries.
The decision left rules governing participation in primaries to a state's political parties. Jones chose to allow the participation of independents over options limiting primary participation to those voters registered as Republicans or opening them to all registered voters.
Democratic Party leaders are to announce their decision this week.
The candidate filing deadline is noon Thursday.
The GOP chairman is associated with the party's moderate forces, and his decision is generally seen as helpful to the moderate candidates in GOP primaries.
Numbers indicate the decision could potentially have huge consequences in Johnson County primaries. Karen Browning of the Johnson County Election Office said there are 94,462 voters with unaffiliated registration in Johnson County, a total that outnumbers the county's 65,664 registered Democrats. The are 158,461 registered Republicans, 1,821 registered Libertarians, and 283 members of the Reform Party, she said.
Although State Sen. Kay O'Connor dismissed the effect of the change in her primary race against fellow Olathe legislator State Rep. Rob Boyer to retain her 9th District Senate seat, she said she was disappointed in how issue was handled.
O'Connor said she called Jones' office 45 minutes before he released the decision to the press, but was told she would have to wait until the official announcement. She and other elected party members down to the precinct level should have been notified of the decision in advance, she said.
"It was like they were sneaking behind the backs of fellow Republicans," she said. "I am an elected official. I am a Republican, and I'm vice-chairman of the Senate Local Government and Elections Committee.
"This is not the way to engender trust and leadership in the Republican Party. Our leadership is failing us."
Still, O'Connor said the changed rules wouldn't hurt her campaign.
"I don't think it is going to do as much damage as some people think," she said. "I've been going to unaffiliated voters ever since I started in politics."
Her opponent disagreed on the decision's importance in the race and Jones' responsibility to notify party members in advance.
"It has an enormous impact, because we have 12,000 unaffiliated votes in this district," he said. "They tend to vote with the education and business candidate.
"The people for whom abortion and concealed carry are the most important issues are definitely registered Republicans and vote in every election. You can't say that about unaffiliated voters."
Boyer said he expected 15 percent of the unaffiliated voters to vote in the primary.
"That's a significant impact that favors me dramatically," he said.
The change in primary participation could also be noticed in the Republican contest for Johnson County Sheriff, where Sheriff Lynn "Currie" Myers is facing a challenge from Frank Denning. Myers became sheriff when he won a county party caucus after the 2002 death of Sheriff John Foster.
Myers' campaign manager Valerie Jung said the sheriff's campaign would continue to with its original campaign plan, although it would adjust to the new rule.
"We do not feel this change will affect the sheriff's race," she said.
Denning said a potential voter pool of 94,000 would obviously make difference in the race.
"I think it's an advantage," he said. "I think my feelings for saying that is it will make it easier for the independent voter to cast a ballot."
The winner of the GOP primary will face Democrat Terry Morgan, an ex-KBI agent who filed this week as the lone Democrat in the sheriff's race.
The new rules won't apply in contest for the Johnson County Commission, which are contested with a non-partisan ticket.
One day before the filing deadline, the only primary in the three Commission's seats contested this year was that for the 6th District, which includes De Soto. The three candidates in that contest are incumbent John Toplikar of Olathe, Ramona Allenbrand and Gardner Mayor Carol Lehman.
A change on the seven-member Commission was guaranteed when incumbent 2nd District Commissioner Susie Wolf announced last month she would not seek re-election to a second four-year term. Vying to replace her are Mike Brown and John Ramsey, both of Lenexa.
Third District incumbent David Lindstorm did not have an opponent as of Wednesday.