In the runup to the Aug. 7 primary, something interesting has been happening at the Harvey County Clerk’s office. Prospective voters, prior to the Tuesday voter registration deadline, have been changing parties.
Most notably, 253 voters who were Democrats or undeclared have changed to Republican since May 23.
“I think the biggest reason is there are races where the primary will determine the seat,” said Jason Mitchell, head of the Harvey County Republican Party. “It’s a microcosm of what we see nationally, where moderates and conservatives are fighting for seats.”
Those races include the state senate district 31 seat, and one of the Harvey County commission seats.
In senate 31, conservative challenger Gary Mason (R-Valley Center) is taking on incumbent moderate Carolyn McGinn (R-Sedgwick). For county commission seat No. 2, Randy Hague (R-Newton) is challenging incumbent Marge Roberson (R-Newton).
In each of those races, there are no Democrats waiting to run in the general election. For the county commission seat No. 3,
William Ewert (R-Halstead) and Lenny Wild (R-Newton) are challenging incumbent Ron Krehbiel (R-Burrton). The winner of the primary will take on Leo B. Stahly (D-Newton).
Neither Mitchell or Ken Walsh, head of the Harvey County Democratic Party, pointed to a single race which they believed motivated those making a party switch.
“I suspect that people want to be involved in the primary races and have decided to participate by changing party,” Walsh said. “The democrats have no opposition in their primary races, so it is not as exciting as the contested races in the Republican Party.”
Party switching may not be quite over, either. According to the current Republican primary rules, an undeclared voter may declare at the polls. However, a Democrat wanting to make the switch is now out of luck.
“We did have one woman who changed to undeclared,” said Rick Piepho, assistant county clerk. “She said she will declare on election day. In the case she doesn't live that long, she didn't want to die as a Republican.”
Not everyone, however, shares her sentiments.
In the run-up to the registration deadline, the clerk's office would ask if voters intended to switch parties again after the primary. If the answer was yes, the clerk's office gave them the paperwork needed to fill out after the primary.
But a number of those making the switch said they would stay in the GOP.
“Some people believe that to have a voice in state politics, they need to stay Republican,” Piepho said.
Mitchell said he doesn't believe the number of voters making the change this summer will have a long-term effect on the GOP of Harvey County ? and doesn't believe it will have much effect on the upcoming primary.
Page 2 of 2 - “The only effect it might have is if it came down to a few hundred votes,” Mitchell said. “I don't see it as a big issue.”
He does hope it means more voters will show up to the annual party ice cream social at 6:30 p.m. July 26 in Athletic Park ? all of the Republican candidates in contested races are, at this time, scheduled to attend and participate in a forum.
“Get to know the candidates,” Mitchell said. “That is what this really comes down to.”
By the numbers
19 — Voters changed from Democrat to undeclared bewtween May 23 and July 18
22 — Voters changed from Republican to undeclared bewtween May 23 and July 18
64 — voters changed from undeclared to Republican bewtween May 23 and July 18
253 — Total number of democrats or unaffiliated voters changed to Republican bewtween May 23 and July 18