Every now and again, you read about a legislative interim committee that proposes the full Legislature take a look at some new concept, whether it’s payday loans or auto insurance or building a new prison.

Pretty much stuff that we have an idea of what a perceived problem amounts to in our lives—and just who perceives it as a problem—and if or whether the Legislature ought to fix it.

Simple when it’s something that we can all understand, like driving in the right-hand lane unless you’re passing or not selling liquor to kids.

But later this month, the Special Committee on Elections is going to consider something new — at least to Kansans — a way to elect state officeholders based on their popularity in their districts: You put all the candidates on the ballot; voters at the primary election choose from everyone running and rank them. The top two vote-getters regardless of party affiliation wind up on the general election ballot.

Almost sounds like a way to get candidates to campaign to every voter in their district, of all parties, and likely represent the majority view of that district; political affiliation just sort of fades away.

We’re not thinking that the political parties are going to be fans of the idea. Say the Democrats like a moderate or liberal Republican for a certain office. This way, they could rank that politician high and get him/her into the general election with not much in the way of dependence on the party leadership. Or, say that one party or another typically draws such a small percentage (based on registration) of the total vote that a party candidate gets to the general election with a small number of votes.

(Yes, that’s why the growing GOP slate of candidates for the party’s nomination for Kansas governor reduces the amount of support needed for a candidate to make it to the general election. Ten candidates? Eleven percent of the party’s primary vote can call the winner. It’s long division…)

Rank by voter preference the top two candidates, and whether they are from the same or different parties, the whole complexion of the general election changes. Two Republicans rank highest and get to the general election? Then it’s probably going to mean that they campaign on issues, not just party affiliation, and we see whether Republicans will vote for a candidate more or less conservative than the voter is. Two Democrats (tricky in all but a couple dozen of the state’s 105 counties)? All of a sudden, the party line grows dim, and the general election campaign broadens to more issues, to more voters.

It’s a pretty dramatic change that the interim committee will look at, probably not endorse but at least set Kansas lawmakers to thinking about.

What if we see candidates who bear one party label but really are just campaigning to a platform or the latest trickle-down theory of whoever is president?

Seems like this concept might change the general direction of the Legislature. Or it might just return the same results in terms of philosophy, if not party label, and you have to wonder whether that’s all bad or good—or just complicates things.

Does that mean that political parties, their staff, leaders, fund-raisers and such become unnecessary? Don’t bet on it, but it probably would require the parties to broaden their stance, talk less about platforms and more about the voters of a district.

Complicated? Maybe. But it’s a whole new way of electing the people who represent us. Waiting to see just how this comes out…


— Syndicated by Hawver News Company LLC of Topeka; Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver's Capitol Report—to learn more about this nonpartisan statewide political news service, visit the website at www.hawvernews.com