Thursday, March 23, 2023

Kansas Presidential Primary Push Faces Friday Deadline

The Kansas state Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee convened on Thursday, March 23 to conduct a hearing on the newly introduced SB 321. Brought forth formally just one day prior, the measure would establish a presidential primary election in the Sunflower state for the 2024 cycle. 

The Thursday hearing was revealing for several reasons:
1. This bill is going to move fast if it is going to move at all. Across the legislature, committees face a deadline of Friday, March 24 to complete work on certain bills. SB 321 is among those certain bills. It faces a very quick trip from introduction one day to public hearing the next and finally followed by a working session after which there will be action to either pass the bill on to the Senate floor for consideration or leave it in committee. That working session will fall on deadline day and is still awaiting a fiscal note being delayed by counties who have been asked to quickly ascertain how much an additional election would cost at the local level. 

2. The principal driver behind the effort to reestablish the Kansas presidential primary is the state Republican Party. The state Democratic Party was unaware of the possible change.

3. While the state Republican Party entertained an earlier Super Tuesday date for the primary, March 19 -- the first Tuesday after March 15 -- was chosen in order for the party be able to allocate delegates in a winner-take-all manner. March 15 is important because that is the date before which truly winner-take-all allocation methods are prohibited by Republican National Committee rule. [This is something FHQ raised on social media earlier.]

4. The sponsor of the competing Senate bill to reestablish the presidential primary but pair it with the primaries for other offices spoke in favor of the new legislation. But Senator Caryn Tyson (R-12th, Anderson) urged the committee to consider consolidating the primaries to cut down on the total costs associated with carrying out nominating elections. [The Kansas secretary of state's office at the hearing roughly estimated -- again, without full input from the counties -- that the price tag would come in around $4.5 million. That expenditure may or may not be an issue for legislators.] Tyson continued that her bill was intended as a conversation starter on shifting to a primary and that the first Tuesday following the first Monday in May date was a suggestion based on how little it would overlap with the legislative session. A consolidated primary any earlier would have legislators campaigning and raising funds during the legislative session, a conflict of interest issue that often pops up in states when consolidated primaries are discussed. The cost savings may be tempting to legislators but the campaigning conflict may offset it. The bottom line with respect to Tyson's bill (SB 290) is that it is not going anywhere and the May timing may or may not be workable. One thing consolidation would do would be to permanently schedule all the primaries for a particular time. 

5. On a similar note, as mentioned in the post about the introduction of SB 321, this is a one-off action for 2024. That there would just be a presidential primary in 2024 was confirmed in the course of the hearing. Kansas would revert to a system in which the parties run the process in 2028 and beyond. The consolidation path would avoid that drawback.

6. The state Democratic Party was not present to comment on the bill or whether they would opt into a primary, if available. Kansas Democrats held a party-run primary by mail in 2020.

Given the haste with which this measure has already moved, it is likely that it will come out of committee in some form after the working session on March 24. There may be some changes, but it seems unlikely that any of the thornier issues like consolidation will be addressed. It would open a can of worms in a process that has already been maximally streamlined and can afford no delays given the deadlines facing the committee. 

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