No Labels puts down a rogue effort to hijack its ballot line in Kansas

by Admin
No Labels puts down a rogue effort to hijack its ballot line in Kansas

The Kansas secretary of state has rebuffed an effort by a Republican-affiliated political strategist to take control of the state’s branch of the political party started by No Labels, the bipartisan group that had been exploring running a third-party 2024 presidential bid but decided against it.

Kris Van Meteren, a Republican strategist in the state, says he’s the rightful chair of the party, having convened his own convention — with one attendee, where he elected himself chairman after incorporating No Labels Kansas, Inc. as a nonprofit in the state. After doing so, he nominated two candidates for the party’s ballot line in a pair of state Senate districts: his wife, and a Democrat who says she was nominated without her consent.

But the Kansas secretary of state rejected those nominations, and No Labels is crying foul. They both say Van Meteren has no claim to the party, despite the decision by its national leadership not to run candidates this cycle. And No Labels told NBC News that it is actively engaged to make sure that no one will hijack the state ballot lines they won’t be using this fall, which would throw a new wrench into the general election.

No Labels announced this spring that it would “stand down” on its attempt to field a third-party presidential ticket, despite forming state party organizations and gaining ballot access in 21 states, including Kansas. In many of those places, the state parties deputized by the national organization technically held the final decision as to whether or not to put forward candidates on its ballot line. But so far, there’s been no indication that they would disregard the wishes of the national No Labels group. And the party hasn’t put any candidates forward in Kansas.

Still, days before Kansas’ candidate filing deadline, Van Meteren said he took action.

In a post on Facebook early Friday morning, the political consultant said he filed paperwork to incorporate the party and register it with the IRS before calling a convention, naming himself party chairman and nominating candidates. One was long-time Democratic state Sen. Marci Francisco, who is facing a primary within her own party (and who told NBC News and local outlets she had no knowledge of Van Meteren’s efforts). The other was his wife, Echo Van Meteren, a Republican running for state Senate.

Van Meteren did not respond to emails NBC News sent to his firm, The Singularis Group, which has worked with a variety of Republicans in the Midwest and Great Plains in recent years.

Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab rejected Van Meteren’s nominations. His office said in a statement that state laws say “the nomination for state office [must] be called by the state chairperson of the party. The chairperson of the No Labels party is listed as Glenda Reynolds, not Kristian Van Meteren.” The secretary of state’s office also provided NBC News with copies of letters sent to each candidate denying the nominations.

In statements to NBC News and local outlets, No Labels chief strategist Ryan Clancy confirmed that Reynolds remains the chair of No Labels Kansas and that Van Meteren’s filings were not sanctioned by the group.

“No Labels Kansas did everything it was supposed to do according to state law: party leadership was designated and adopted; bylaws were submitted to the Secretary of State at the outset along with petition signatures. Unfortunately, this person now appears to be shamefully impersonating a No Labels official,” Clancy said.

“We don’t know him, have no affiliation with him and we hope Kansas state election officials hold him fully accountable for any violations he has committed,” Clancy continued. “This is the kind of nonsense that undermines voters’ faith in our democracy and it has to stop.”

Van Meteren has maintained he has followed state laws and called on the secretary of state to reverse his decision. He said he’s the “legitimate chairman” of the No Labels Kansas Party in his Friday Facebook post, arguing his tactics were lawful.

He wrote on Facebook that he was being accused of “swindling the good people of Kansas into buying some kind of dangerous electoral snake oil. Obviously, potentially giving general election voters more options is such dangerous medicine.”

“What is demanded and what I’m asking for is a fair reading of the law by an unbiased legal authority to see if I am, as accused in the press, guilty of some kind of election fraud or crime,” Van Meteren continued. “Conversely, I am keenly interested in finding out if I actually followed the law as it is written.”

A copy of the bylaws that No Labels Kansas filed with the state shows how the organization tried to guard against something like this when it started its 2024 presidential push.

The bylaws state that the party is not authorized to nominate state or local candidates, only to nominate candidates for the presidency and vice presidency. And a memo from the secretary of state’s office provided to the media argues that political parties aren’t required to file incorporation paperwork, so in its eyes, Van Meteren wasn’t exploiting some kind of valid loophole.

The corporations he created, the memo states, are “completely different and distinct [entities] from the No Labels Kansas, the recognized political party.

The memo adds that Van Meteren’s filings “may have violated” Kansas law prohibiting “false impersonation as a party officer.

Could an effort like this work elsewhere? It’s unlikely.

Ballot access is one of the main obstacles that make campaigns difficult for third-party candidates, so it’s easy to see why No Labels’ ballot lines would be attractive for someone trying to run for an office as something other than a Democrat or Republican.

But Richard Winger, a ballot-access expert who co-writes the Ballot Access News newsletter, told NBC News that in states like Kansas, where new parties nominate their candidates by conventions, “No Labels can easily block candidates because the state chairs, who are loyal to the national organization, will simply refuse to call any nominating conventions.”

Winger added that there are a handful of states where No Labels has its own primary on the ballot, including Arizona, where the state is appealing a ruling that said the party can block prospective candidates from running on its ballot line. Florida also has a No Labels primary, but there are currently no candidates registered as running for the No Labels Party. Wisconsin could have been another one of these states, but the party withdrew its pending ballot access application and never ultimately qualified.

Clancy told NBC News in a follow-up interview that “it’s been made very clear to us that we have the ultimate authority over our own ballot, determining how that is used” in the states where they have access.

“There could be other circumstances where somebody tries to pull this stuff but: Number one, they aren’t allowed to do it, and number two, we have been in communication with lots of our state officers to make them aware of this and so they can help prevent this from happening,” Clancy said.

“Our reputation and credibility is on the line,” he continued. “We are not going to just walk away from this and leave this asset out there for people to screw around with to create mischief.”

And he added that the party will work with authorities to ensure no one “tries to act illegally or unethically with regard to a ballot line.”

The saga is a reminder of the potential unintended consequences of third-party political efforts.

In at least one case in recent years, the introduction of a new political party served as a kind of “Chekhov’s gun” — a seemingly minor development that re-emerged years later with new intrigue and consequences.

When former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman — a long-time No Labels ally who was leading its presidential candidate advisory committee before his death earlier this year — lost the 2006 Democratic primary for his re-election, he created his own political party to still appear on the ballot. Lieberman won his final Senate term that fall as a member of the “Connecticut for Lieberman” party.

But after the election, a Lieberman critic changed his voter registration to join the party and said he was told by the secretary of state he was the only member of the Connecticut for Lieberman party in the state — after which he elected himself party chairman and used the Lieberman party to needle Lieberman himself.

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