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Archive for Saturday, January 13, 1996

TURNOUT TROUBLES SPARK MOVING IDEA

January 13, 1996

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A Lawrence legislator says more people would vote in the August primary election in the county if the election was held at the end of the month rather than the beginning.

Douglas County's 23 percent voter turnout during the 1994 primary elections was "embarrassing," state Sen. Sandy Praeger, R-Lawrence, says.

But there is a simple explanation for the low turnout.

The reason? Many residents tied to school schedules are on vacation during the primary, which is the first Tuesday after the first Monday in August, Praeger said.

And she's come up with an idea to boost participation in the primary.

"A way of increasing voter turnout would be to change the date and make it at a time when people are home and thinking about the election," Praeger explained

The Lawrence senator would like to see the date for the primary moved from the first to the fourth Tuesday in August, when Kansas University's fall session is under way and public schools have started.

Praeger says she's now in the process of getting a bill drafted. She hopes to introduce it by Feb. 5, the deadline for legislators to introduce individual bills.

Her bill is similar to one that she unsuccessfully tried to get the Senate Elections Committee to introduce in 1995.

Last year, she ran into opposition from Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh. Thornburgh wanted to first see the effects of advance voting, a new law that allows absentee voting for anyone, which effectively allows voters to cast ballots up to 20 days before the election.

"He wanted to get through the next election cycle before we made additional changes," Praeger said.

Sen. Janice Hardenburger, R-Haddam, who chairs the elections committee, agreed last year with Thornburgh, and the committee didn't introduce a bill. But this year, Praeger said she will try to get several senators to co-sponsor the bill with her instead of getting the committee to sponsor it.

"We're always trying to find ways to improve voter turnout," Praeger said. "Maybe it's a bigger issue in Lawrence than in other parts of the state."

She said one of the reasons for the low voter turnout in primaries is that students registered here are gone and that many families are on vacation.

"Another complaint we hear frequently is that the election cycles are too long," she said. "This would shorten the cycle between the primary and the general."

Praeger said when few people vote in the primary, an organized minority can push through its own candidates.

"Strong voter turnout means that the majority voice is being represented," Praeger said. "I think we want policies in place that promote opportunities for a greater number of people to get out."

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