During the Kansas primary election season, there have been efforts to recruit Democratic party voters to change their voter registration to Republican in order to participate in Republican party primary races. Kansas National Education Association (KNEA) has asked teachers union members to switch their voter registration in order to vote in Republican primaries. KNEA has asked this on its website and in an email that has received widespread attention.
Former Wichita Mayor Elma Broadfoot has recorded telephone calls urging Democrats to switch party registration so they may vote for moderate Republicans, reports the Wichita Eagle.
Whether this effort will be successful is unknown. But we now know, for Sedgwick County, how many people have changed their voter registration to Republican in recent months.
I took a Sedgwick County voter file obtained in May and compared it to one current as of Friday, which is after the deadline for changing voter registration. In the accompanying table, I counted voters who switched to Republican registration from some other party. I grouped the data by Kansas Senate district, as this is where much of the focus has been. I also present totals for Sedgwick County, as some county-wide races may also be impacted.
It’s important to remember that some of these senate districts are not totally within Sedgwick County, and this table includes only Sedgwick County voters. Districts 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, and 30 are entirely within the county, and all voters in these districts are represented in the table.
Numbers in context
Now that we know the number of voters who switched to Republican registration, are these numbers large enough to affect any races? The answer is we simply don’t know. We don’t know why these voters switched to Republican registration. Their motive may be to vote for the moderate candidate, but there could be other reasons, too.
To place these numbers in context, consider the race for senate district 25, which pits incumbent Jean Schodorf against Wichita City Council Member Michael O’Donnell. In this district, 230 voters switched to Republican registration.
In the 2008 primary, 2,435 people voted for Schodorf, but there was no opponent. About 4,000 voted for Les Donovan in his primary, and about the same for Susan Wagle in her district, but again these races were uncontested. In the 2008 general election, 16,016 voted for Schodorf over 9,530 cast for her opponent, for a total of 25,546 votes cast, plus a few write-ins. But general elections, by their nature, have a much higher turnout than primaries.
A better election to compare is the 2004 Republican primary for senate district 30 in east Wichita, when former Wichita Mayor Bob Knight challenged incumbent Susan Wagle in a race that received much attention. Knight received 3,140 votes to Wagle’s 5,624, for a total of 8,764 votes cast.
230 voters switching registration out of a potential vote total of 8,764 is 2.6 percent. Many races are decided by less than that margin. But again, we don’t know the intent of these 230 voters, and while these voters are probably more motivated than most, some may not vote.
We should also note that district 27 had 223 voters switch to Republican affiliation during the same period. Incumbent Les Donovan has no primary opponent. He will face a Democrat in the general election, but party registration doesn’t matter at that time. In district 30, 160 voters switched to Republican registration. Incumbent Susan Wagle has no primary opponent.
It’s also noteworthy that switching to Republican registration is not the only action I observed. For example, in District 25, while 230 voters switched to Republican, 51 Democratic voters switched to Unaffiliated registration, 42 Republicans switched to Unaffiliated, and seven voters became Libertarian party voters. On election day Unaffiliated voters can switch their registration to Republican and vote in the primary.
Finally, there are new voters of all parties, including Republican. The analysis above counts only voters who changed party registration to Republican.
Overall, 2,001 voters in Sedgwick County switched party registration during this two-month period, with 1,126 switching to Republican.