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Archive for Monday, May 24, 1999

BALLOTS BY MAIL

May 24, 1999

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If mail balloting increases voter participation in certain elections, Douglas County should give it a try.

The results of mail balloting in DeSoto are impressive.

Actually the latest set of mail ballots just went out in DeSoto last Tuesday, so no results are in. But if the rate of return on the ballots is even close to that recorded in a 1989 election, other local government units should take note.

The ballots mailed on Tuesday are for voting on a proposed $42.5 million bond issue to fund construction of two new schools and additions. DeSoto school leaders and many school district patrons are hoping for a positive result to allow the new buildings to be built. Voters rejected a $57.5 million bond issue for new schools in 1996.

But another sort of success would be to match the participation in another mail ballot the district conducted in 1989. The "turnout" for that election was 81.4 percent.

That's a pretty impressive figure when compared with the dismal voter turnout in many Douglas County elections. The last time voters in the Lawrence school district voted on a bond issue -- $16.6 million to build a new elementary school and make other building improvements -- was the November 1998 general election. Even with legislative and statewide races at stake, less than half of county voters -- 47 percent -- went to the polls.

Last month's general election to select members of the Lawrence City Commission and Lawrence school board drew only 23 percent of registered voters. Even in a presidential election, Douglas County can't match DeSoto's 81 percent turnout. In November 1996, only 76 percent of Douglas County voters cast ballots.

Even with special registration efforts, and the new advanced voting, Douglas County's participation in elections continues to lag. Perhaps the next time it is appropriate, local election officials should consider a mail ballot.

It will be interesting to see whether DeSoto can repeat its high participation in the current mail ballot, which will conclude June 8. If it does, Douglas County officials should take note and consider taking a new tack to try to increase local voter turnout.

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