The Kansas Legislature has taken my voting power away, and I want it back.
When I go to the polls for the Aug. 2 primary election, I’ll do so knowing the GOP-controlled Legislature has done everything possible to disempower me and my Democratic-voting neighbors. I live in Lawrence, a community whose mostly left-leaning residents — two-thirds of the county’s presidential votes went to Joe Biden in 2020 — have long vexed Kansas Republicans. So in the latest round of congressional redistricting, they shoved us into the overwhelmingly conservative Big 1st District that has traditionally represented the western part of the state.
Lawrence is just a short drive away from the Missouri border, but now we’re part of a district that extends hundreds of miles all the way to Colorado. That does no favors to the travel budget of the region’s current representative, Republican Tracey Mann. And it’s bad for Lawrence, whose interests as a growing suburban-style community are rather different from the mostly rural issues that affect the rest of the district. That has nothing to do with partisanship and everything to do with geography. But none of that matters quite as much as entrenching the already-dominant power of the Kansas GOP. The point is to ensure Lawrence’s political irrelevance.
So what can be done? How can people in my city recover even a tiny fraction of their lost political power?
Me, I’m thinking about registering as a Republican. And I think maybe some of my Lawrence neighbors should do the same thing.
It’s not that we share a lot of political values with the Kansas GOP. A lot of people in my city are pro-choice, enthusiastic about LGBTQ rights and welcoming on immigration. We’re emphatically not conservative. But it seems clear that the intent of the Kansas Legislature was to ensure that Republicans exercise most (if not all) of the political power in this state. So it would seem that our best option is to join up, start voting in primary elections and do our level best to pull the weight of the party somewhere closer to the center of the political spectrum.
There are precedents for this. In Colorado last month, thousands of Democrats crossed party lines to vote in the GOP primary against Rep. Lauren Boebert, the notorious pro-gun Republican. They failed in their quest, but there have been some successes: Democratic voters in Georgia are credited with helping incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger defeat challenges from Trumpist candidates in May’s GOP primary. It’s even been done locally: Anecdotally, at least, a number of Democrats registered as Republicans during the 1998 Kansas primary elections to help moderate GOP Gov. Bill Graves turn back a conservative challenger. (Not that Graves needed help: He won renomination with 72% of the vote.)
This is not the sort of thing that can be done as a one-off. Kansas law now prevents opportunistic party-jumping by prohibiting most efforts to change registration during primary campaign season — Democrats can’t suddenly decide to vote Republican, nor vice versa. So it’s too late for Lawrence liberals to flip suddenly to the GOP for next month’s primary.
That’s fine, because this is a long-term project anyway. Political power won’t be won back in a single election. Instead, centrists and left-leaning voters who find themselves suddenly locked into the 1st Congressional District should recognize history and reality — the only Democrat ever elected from the district was Howard S. Miller, who served a single term in the early 1950s — and plan accordingly.
If only Republicans are allowed to have their votes count in Kansas, the best way to make your vote count is to register as a Republican. For Lawrence Democrats, that probably requires a bit of nose-holding, but so what? If you can’t beat ‘em, the only choice is to join ‘em.