Kansas Lawmakers Advance Bill To Stop Election ‘Tomfoolery’

By John Celock

The Kansas House of Representatives advanced legislation Wednesday that would prohibit candidates from leaving the ballot after June 1 for any reason except death.

The bill seeks to address last year’s U.S. Senate race in the state, where Democratic nominee Chad Taylor dropped out of the race in September and state Democrats did not replace him on the ballot. The state Supreme Court ruled against Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) who had said that Taylor would have to remain on the ballot for failing to say why he was unable to serve in the Senate. Taylor’s withdrawal left voters with a choice between Sen. Pat Roberts (R) and independent candidate Greg Orman.

“Thousands of Democratic voters who voted for Chad Taylor to be their nominee against Pat Roberts were disenfranchised. They then did not have a Democratic nominee placed on the ballot,” House Elections Committee Chairman Mark Kahrs (R-Wichita) said during the debate. “The statutes as they stand today are unenforceable. We have to strengthen election laws to present any tomfoolery.”

Under the provisions of the bill, which passed 80-40 in the Committee of the Whole process, a candidate would not be able to withdraw from an election after June 1. If a candidate’s death were to occur before Sept. 1, a political party would be required to appoint a replacement candidate. Under the current law, a candidate can withdraw, with a party nominee having to state that they are incapable of holding office.

Kahrs said that he believes Taylor withdrew after pressure from other Democrats who say Orman as a more electable candidate. Taylor’s withdrawal came after a discussion with U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill (R-Mo.) and turned Kansas into one of the most competitive Senate races in the country.

“This bill addresses the fraud in the last primary election when a party pressured a candidate,” Kahrs said.

Orman never indicated which party he would caucus with but he held fundraisers with top Democrats. Republicans accused Orman of intending to caucus with Democrats if elected. Roberts defeated Orman in the race.

Democrats objected to Kahrs’ claim regarding Taylor.

“That is not the case. The law was followed,” Rep. John Carmichael (D-Wichita) said during the debate. “The court found the certification met the law. For the representative to distort the true facts is unfortunate.”

Carmichael called the legislation “misguided” and a “knee jerk reaction” to the Supreme Court not siding with Kobach. He said that many reasons could go into a candidate wanting to leave. He questioned Kahrs about what would happen if a candidate were to lapse into a coma and voters would be forced to elect a comatose public official. Kahrs said that the candidate could be elected and replaced after an election. Carmichael objected noting that the replacement would be picked by party insiders and not voters.

Carmichael noted this week’s resignation of former Rep. J. Basil Dannebohm (R-Ellinwood) due to health reasons relating to Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease, noting that there are many reasons why someone might withdraw.

Rep. Annie Kuether (D-Topeka) talked about a former Republican opponent of hers who withdrew because she felt “she was in over her head.” She said that the bill would force that candidate to remain on the ballot. She also questioned Kahrs’ comments regarding Taylor, saying that she did not think Taylor sent Kahrs “a personal note” regarding why he dropped out of the Senate race.

Kahrs said that the bill would allow judges to know the intent of the Legislature in writing the law.

“We’re making it very clear for candidates, parties and the judiciary to know what the law is,” he said.