Archive for Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Officials seek explanations for Tuesday’s low voter turnout for city, school elections

Some say local elections should be in November; others suggest different weekday

April 6, 2011


2011 Elections

Get information on the issues, candidates and results of the 2011 elections.

Interactive map of Lawrence City Commission election results

View an interactive map of the results for the Lawrence City Commission election held April 5, 2011.

Interactive map of Lawrence school board election results

View an interactive, precinct-by-precinct breakdown of the results for the Lawrence school board election held April 5, 2011.

Blame it on the weather.

Maybe 70-degree temperatures and sunny skies caused people to just find something else to do besides vote in Tuesday’s city and school elections.

No, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but whatever caused a 13 percent voter turnout in Lawrence was happening in other communities too. To a larger degree, in fact.

“I’ve talked to a number of my peers today, and it really sounds like this was an issue statewide,” Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said.

A quick check by the Journal-World found that turnout in Sedgwick County was 12.7 percent. In Shawnee County, it was 11.6 percent. In Johnson County, it was 9.7 percent.

Think maybe in smaller counties the story was different? Nope. Jefferson County was 8.1 percent and Franklin County was 7.1 percent.

Need for a change?

Douglas County’s low turnout, which marked the third consecutive city/school election to see a decline in turnout, had some people asking whether we are voting at the wrong time. There long have been questions about why city and school elections take place in April instead of in November when statewide and national elections are conducted.

The simple answer is because state law dictates it, but state law could be changed. In fact, there was a bill introduced this legislative session to move local elections to November, Shew said. But it never got much support.

“We opposed it,” said Kimberly Winn, deputy director of the League of Kansas Municipalities.

Winn said putting city and school board races on the November ballot would be a bad idea because it would minimize city elections.

“If local elections were tied to a presidential ballot, you can about guess how much coverage the local elections would get,” Winn said. “Next to none.”

But she said even more troubling is that it would introduce partisan politics into local elections. Candidates in city and school board elections do not run under a political party banner. They do in state and national elections.

“I think it would inherently make those elections partisan,” Winn said.

Other concerns that have been brought up about a change to November include that ballots — by the time you print everything from presidential candidates to local judges — would be really long.

But some said even if local elections aren’t moved to November, we ought to still think about moving them on the calendar — to a different day of the week.

Carrie Lindsey, a board member of the Lawrence-Douglas County League of Women Voters, said maybe it is time to consider moving elections to Saturdays.

“We live in a time and economic situation where people are expected to work,” Lindsey said. “If you have a job right now, you don’t take off to vote even if somebody says it is OK.”

State law doesn’t allow local elections to be on a Saturday, but it does allow special elections — like for a bond issue — to take place any day of the week, Shew said. He said he has tried to encourage past special elections to be on a Saturday just to see if it would make a difference in turnout.

“But I think there are a lot of people really tied to Tuesdays,” Shew said.

It’s about the issues

At the end of the day, several election-watchers said there’s probably no simple answer. Shew said voter turnout long has been tied to how interesting voters find the particular candidates and issues of the day. Shew said he thought the talk of school consolidation would create more interest, but perhaps the issue only captivated parents directly impacted by possible district changes.

Lindsey is not so sure. She said the large number of school board candidates was a good indicator that people found the issue important.

“I just have a hard time believing that 13 percent turnout reflects the level of concern people have about this issue,” she said.

But then again, she said, maybe it is that people are concerned but just don’t think government will end up doing anything to address their concerns.

“There is so much visceral gobbledygook about how bad government is, why would you choose to participate?” Lindsey said. “We have to be very careful because it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”


scary_manilow 7 years, 1 month ago

Uh... lack of viable options? Seriously, this crop of candidates STUNK.

Don Whiteley 7 years, 1 month ago

You mean because none of them supported legalizing marijuana, providing free abortions, or demonstraing gay lovemaking technicques to school children, or did you have some other reason?

Flap Doodle 7 years, 1 month ago

Are they going to whizz away a few thousand bucks on a study?

jhawkinsf 7 years, 1 month ago

If we held an election and nobody showed up, would we still have a democracy? Of all the threats to our democracy that you can think of, terrorism, economic woes, etc., it's apathy that presents the greatest danger. Many have fought and died to protect our right to vote, or to not vote. But these numbers are truly depressing.

jafs 7 years, 1 month ago


It only works the way it's supposed to if a vast majority of voters vote.

igby 7 years, 1 month ago

T'was the to-wurd pond perhaps that quilled their enthusiam. Really not much reason to vote for a captian of a sinking ship.

sandw2010 7 years, 1 month ago

The polls are open for enough time for anyone to vote. Even people who work 12 hours a day could find time to vote, if they wanted to!

sad_lawrencian 7 years, 1 month ago

"If local elections were tied to a presidential ballot, you can about guess how much coverage the local elections would get," Winn said. "Next to none."

I don't understand how a presidential election would prevent local politicians from receiving coverage?? This doesn't make any sense. One has nothing to do with the other! Really stupid reason for justifying why these elections are held in April.

Steve Jacob 7 years, 1 month ago

Low turnout is due to people me content with the ways things are run. Don't laugh. The toughest decisions anymore they pass the buck to the voters with bond issues.

Saturdays? Come on, if you want people to vote, do mail in.

John Hamm 7 years, 1 month ago

You want an explanation? I'll give you an explanation. It don't do no good. No choices, no real change. Business, the politicians way, as usual.

Jay Lovett 7 years, 1 month ago

Does anyone really believe that any of the people we voted in will actually do something positive for the community? I don't feel like the local elections have been anything but an opportunity for local businessmen to advance their personal goals and gains. It's not that others don't have time to vote, it's that the act of voting is completely meaningless in local and national elections alike. Democracy in which participation is valueless; We better go invade an oil country and tell them how great this system works!

cowboy 7 years, 1 month ago

Get rid of the commission , have a four year mayor with a definable vision , then you'll have a turnout , and results.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 1 month ago

When you have a chief state election officer whose sole campaign issue was passing a measure whose only measurable effect will be suppression of voter turnout, do you really think that in this Republican state that low voter turnout isn't precisely what they want?

O_Spivac 7 years, 1 month ago

oh yes, precisely!! its those EVIL republican/wing-nuts/teabaggers/neo-cons/ insert whatever the new buzz word is for someone who has a different political opinion from yours.... Thank god you figured out the conspiracy that EVERYONE is trying to do, KEEP people from april...DANG YOU REPUBS FOR EXPECTING PEOPLE TO SHOW ID WHEN VOTING!! i tell ya, i for one am SOOOO glad that the TRUE plan for the soul of the state has been figured a bozo...on the bus.... can you hear my sigh of relief?? Dont worry, am not going to get into a message board war with you bozo, if in fact that is your REAL name, because i really dont have time to sit here all day and make what i would guess is at least 72 comments a day in hopes of getting my lj world gold star for the most comments, nor do i have time to thumb through the thesaurus to come up with new ways to continually insult those who do not agree with me... but i WILL check back with you in a week ish or so to see what was posted about what i have said, when i get bored and cant find ANYTHING else to do other those show off my obvious wit and knowledge of the world to others on here...or drink mountain dew, eat funyouns, and catch up on some light reading...on here



notanota 7 years, 1 month ago

I looked through the choices several times this year and could find very little difference between the candidates. I'm a bit surprised our turnout was as high as it was, frankly.

notanota 7 years, 1 month ago

I looked through the choices several times this year and could find very little difference between the candidates. I'm a bit surprised our turnout was as high as it was, frankly.

Bill Lee 7 years, 1 month ago

I didn't care who won so I didn't bother voting. There were no compelling issues or candidates.

jafs 7 years, 1 month ago

I take it then that you won't be complaining about any of the actions of our city commission or school board?

Flap Doodle 7 years, 1 month ago

You missed a word in there, bozo. "...passing a measure whose only measurable effect will be suppression of illegal voter turnout..." There, I fixed it for you.

Darrell Lea 7 years, 1 month ago

I think that low voter turnout is due to a confluence of factors, both locally and nationally.

Locally, there seemed to be no hot button issues, at least as communicated to me through media and candidate mailings. All I could effectively do was to not vote for candidates endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce, and ask friends involved with the school system who they liked for school board.

Regionally and nationally I think that things are taking a turn for the worst in this game we call democracy. With corporate interests controlling the purse strings, the media and the message, many voters are beginning to feel completely disenfranchised from a government that no longer seems to represent them. Who and what is there to vote FOR? If "government is the problem", as has been repeated mantra-like for thirty years, why participate?

gccs14r 7 years, 1 month ago

Nationally we need to move our elections from Tuesday to either Saturday or Sunday, with a restriction on the length of the campaign season to 90 days. Locally, we need by-district representation with all four-year terms, with the election to coincide with Presidential terms to maximize turnout and minimize cost.

Kim Murphree 7 years, 1 month ago

This is the best idea yet. Get rid of At-Large Commission and get back to people who represent their neighborhoods...THEN you would see participation and interest. 4 year terms, and an elected mayor.

evilpenguin 7 years, 1 month ago

Have no idea about local politics, or national politics for that matter. Didn't know there was an election. Also, I'm not eligible to vote.

irvan moore 7 years, 1 month ago

there is early voting available on Saturday before the election and other weekdays preceeding it. it's not the system, it's apathy by the voters, Mr. Shew and his office do a good job of making voting accessible and as easy as possible. the bottom line is people just don't care and you can't legislate that.

webmocker 7 years, 1 month ago

I can't believe it took this many replies to point out the fact of early and mail-in voting options. Thank you!

DeMontfort 7 years, 1 month ago

Interesting graphic in the paper version re: turnout for the four previous four elections:

2003: 33% 2005: 38.5% 2007: 19.7% 2009: 14%

Wonder what it was in 2001 because 2003 and 2005 look like anomalies when you factor in the 2011 turnout of 13%.

Kontum1972 7 years, 1 month ago

they do it for the campaign $$$...and laff all the way to the bank

Don Whiteley 7 years, 1 month ago

I think this represents a declining lack of faith by the American voting public in our ability to impact our governmental entities. I know, for one, I have completely lost faith in the American two-party system. With democrats wanting to pass bills that your great, great, great grandchildren will still be paying for and Republicans wanting to cut taxes for the wealthy and multi-billion dollar businesses, what's the use? Even when a good person is elected, the system and the lobbyists tear apart every fabric of their being until they're like all the rest. A vote for a candidate from either party is a vote for the destruction of America.
A vote for a Tea Party candidate is a vote for a quicker destruction. That attitude is trickling down to elections at all levels. The fix needs to be applied first at the national level, returning real choice to the American people. Only when we again feel we can make an impact will Americans return to the polls.

jafs 7 years, 1 month ago

I think you're right in your analysis, but not necessarily in your conclusion.

Fixing the national political system is a huge undertaking.

And voting locally can have a real impact.

igby 7 years, 1 month ago

The cc election is about coruption that is legal. Having the cc election to go with the general presidential election would stop the coruption and end the special interest agenda of stealing the tax dollars from the poor and squandering it on special interest. This is why we gave miles of 6 feet sidewalk that no one uses out west and potholes and aged and broken crumbling sidewalks downtown that everyone uses. The cc elections now benifit the crook that makes money by exesisive building that is sold to increase a tax base rather than benifit the common public good. The waste is taxed so lets waste more. Example- the empty fire station south of 23rd because compton made a ton of money building the new one on iowa.

Kenny Nall 7 years, 1 month ago

It's good to know that voters can put aside their partisan sentiments to not vote together.

bd 7 years, 1 month ago

Nice picture, wonder what everyones drinking???

Rick Hird 7 years, 1 month ago

I think we should call Kris Kobach and ask him to investigate. Could be massive fraud involved.

dogsandcats 7 years, 1 month ago

It's voter apathy and a disenfranchised feeling with today's politics. I wasn't thrilled with any of the candidates, but I voted anyway because it's my right and duty, for the least bad options. People wouldn't vote on Saturday either, because it's their day off and they have better things to do. Mail in voting might help a lot. Even the most apathetic might be swayed to check a few boxes and stick something in their mailbox, even if they cannot be convinced to travel a few blocks to their polling place.

Annie Neri 7 years, 1 month ago

People are busy and we need a more concise way to see where the candidates stand on the issues. You used to get a paper pamphlet with each candidates pros and cons so you could compare. Who has time to go to debates and chase down newspaper chats on several different dates? It would be very easy for candidates to submit essays on where they stand on the issues to some kind of on-line forum and people could read them as they had time. It would be easy, low-cost and user-friendly. I didn't vote this time because I hadn't had enough access to the candidates and couldn't make an informed decision.

jafs 7 years, 1 month ago

The paper had a nice feature, wherein you could look at answers to questions and mark them according to which ones you agreed with the most, without seeing the names of the candidates.

Then, having done that, you could find out who you most agreed with on the issues.

It took about 5 minutes, and was available for both city commission and school board candidates.

Online, of course.

lamb 7 years, 1 month ago

I usually vote at every election, but not this time. There were no candidates that represented my views. I want LOWER TAXES, LESS SPENDING. I want the schools to tighten their belts like everyone else and NOT give the teachers a raise. Evidently that is political suicide. I think we need to learn to make do with what we have. Not all of us are millionaires and can afford all the grand ideas put forth here in Lawrence. So, I did not vote, there was no one to vote for.......

friendlyjhawk 7 years, 1 month ago

Don't blame the weather. What a dumb remark. People take time to vote or not depending on the issues and their apathy. They make time to go to the store in "weather." They do what they want to do when they want to do. Too busy to vote is just a lazy persons way of excusing themselves from voting. I voted and it was one of the votes that mostly a no vote for something. And BTW, lamb, what the hell is so wrong with giving teachers a raise? Bet if you had ever worked and others were slamming you job as too highly paid you would be up in arms using the "poor working man" defense or the "fixed income" argument. I want lower taxes and less spending too and schools are already tightening their budget. Get on your high horse with the CEO that is overpaid, or oil companies that are robbing us blind or at your state government that wants to cut employees raises but exempt their own employees.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 7 years, 1 month ago

Wow!! And I thought I was the only citizen that was disgusted with local elections!

I used to be very high on encouraging people to vote in local elections, with the notion that local politicans had more impact on citizens than the idiots in Washington. But after living here for over 30 years, it is no secret that the local government structure is a fraud and scam, it does not matter who gets elected, they all dance and bow to the city manager who is not elected, not accountable, not responsive to anyone.

City "commissioners" are dupes and shills who dance to the tune from Core-less, and are as worthless as the teats on a boar hog. I have not voted in a city election in over 10 years and will not ever again unless some real change is made and a truly representative form of city government appears in Lawrence.

What we have now is broke, broke, and more broke in every possible sense and defination of the word "broke"..

igby 7 years, 1 month ago

Broke indeed, and still spending like drunken salors.

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