closed primary, only one of 12 in the nation. That means that you have to be a registered Democrat or Republican to vote in the respective primary. However, the chair of the party can allow independents to vote in their primary. In recent elections Democrats had allowed this. This year the KDP, at its February state convention, joined the Republicans in adopting the more restrictive policy.
The same problem crops up in the State Board of Eduction races where Democrats filed candidates for only one of the five seats up this year; they filed for only two when the same set of seats were up in 2010. And, for three of the different set of five seats up in 2012.
It would take a detailed analysis to figure out what is behind this low state of competitive elections. From what I can tell it's not just a Kansas problem and it's not new. A 2005 article reported that "state legislative races were even less competitive [than Congressional races.] Nationwide, 40 percent of the more than 7,000 races were uncontested."
Parties can put energy into recruiting as many candidates as possible, even in districts that are very strongly partisan for the other party. Or, they can concentrate resources on a smaller number of swing districts. I don't know if a switch like can explain the poor number of Democratic candidates, but it is certainly possible.
Campaign finance reform, some form of public financing of legislative campaigns might increase the number of districts with races. One possibility, for example, has had a system where candidates can get public financing after they show a basis of support, raising, say, $50 each for 100 district voters. Arizona has a system somewhat like this.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach changed the interpretation of state law making it more difficult for minor parties to remain on the ballot and ruled the Reform Party off the ballot. In 2012, Kobach argued successfully that Kansas did not have to allow voters register in unqualified parties that are active in the state.
To be established as a new political party in Kansas, the group must present petitions must be signed by qualified electors equal in number to at least two percent of the total vote cast for all candidates for governor at the last preceding general election. In Kansas, currently, that would mean 16,777 valid petition signatures.
To nominate an independent candidate for statewide evidence takes just 5,000 signatures.
To maintain party ballot status, a qualified party must get one percent of the vote in the lowest voted race it contests. In 2010, that threshold would have been 6,772 in the Commissioner of Insurance race.
If a minor party gets five percent of the vote in the Governor's race it will become a "major party" and thereby hold primaries instead of conventions. That is a major goal of Kansas Libertarians in the belief that being port of a statewide primary along with Republicans and Democrats will give them the potential for further growth. They may be helped by the demise of the Reform Party as there have been several statewide races where the LP +RP vote came to 4.4 percent (2010 Governor) or 4.2 percent (2006 Secretary of State). Libertarian Patrick Wilber received 4.2 percent in the three-way 2006 Insurance Commissioner race. With Libertarian nominee Keen A. Umbehr drawing five percent in the latest SurveyUSA poll that Libertarian goal doesn't appear unreasonable, although there is usually a fall off from polls to election results.
Perhaps if the Libertarian Party achieved "major party" status (with five percent of the vote) they might field more than seven legislative candidates they have in 2012. And, that could increase participation.
Perhaps if there were additional parties--a Moderate Party, Constitution Party, a Working Families Party, or others there might be more competitive elections, a higher turnout, and better state government.
fusion voting. By allowing a candidate to aggregate votes on more than party line, fusion voting avoids the spoiler affect when voting for a more conservative (liberal) candidate takes votes away from a slightly less conservative (liberal) candidate and thereby elects a third more liberal (conservative) candidate. Fusion enables minor parties to influence election results and policy by offering to endorse or nominate a major party's candidate.
Wichita activists have gathered signatures to place a referendum on the ballot to decriminalize marijuana possession. This could have the potential to increase turnout among voters who usually stay at home during off-year elections.
The real path to improving Kansas democracy will be based on re-invigorating the Democratic Party, the growth of grass-roots progressive organizations like Kansas People's Action, and a more creative and energized political effort by teachers and other unions.