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Majority Of Kansas Precinct Seats Empty For Both Parties

Carla Eckels
KMUW/File Photo

Kansas has more than 7,000 precinct seats per party, but fewer than a fifth of Democratic seats are occupied and less than half of Republican seats are filled, according to a newspaper report.

Precincts are geographical units within the electoral system. Each Kansas precinct has two seats per political party. Races for the seats occur on primary ballots in even-numbered years.

The Topeka Capital-Journal tallied precinct seats for all of Kansas' 105 counties using data from election offices and political parties. The data showed that 51 percent of Republican precinct seats appear to be vacant, as well as 83 percent of Democratic seats. Forty counties have no Democratic precinct leaders.

The newspaper's tallies, however, may not reflect any recent resignations or midterm appointments. It also includes precincts that don't have voters. In Sedgwick County, for example, about 131 of 441 precincts lack any registered voters, while in Shawnee County, 27 of its 248 precincts lack voters.

Political scientists and party leaders cite several reasons why precinct seats remain unfilled, ranging from apathy to awkward boundary lines that sometimes result in precincts with few or no residents.

"It illustrates a kind of weakness in the political parties," said Burdett Loomis, a professor of political science at the University of Kansas. "It tells you a lot of people are either unhappy with politics, disgusted by it or don't care."

Precinct leaders often put up campaign signs during election season, help with fundraising and represent local concerns to the county party. They also elect county party leaders, influencing the party's direction and use of resources. And, at least 23 members of the current Legislature first gained their seats through precinct appointments, according to the Kansas Democratic and Republican parties.

Precinct positions seldom draw public attention, and vacant seats mean many neighborhoods don't have a voice in steering political parties or filling partisan offices.

"It's a thankless job in a lot of ways," said Bob Beatty, political science professor at Washburn University.

Kerry Gooch, executive director of the Kansas Democratic Party, said some areas of Kansas haven't had an organized Democratic Party presence for a while.

Clay Barker, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, said filling seats is a struggle but worth it when replacing a legislative or county leader.

"The more sets of eyes and ears you have to listen to the different candidates," the better, he said.