The failure of the Kansas Legislature to approve redistricting maps has created plenty of uncertainty about the summer and fall election calendar, but one date remains firm: Candidates for county and township offices and precinct positions must file for election by noon on Friday.
This year, that includes two seats on the Douglas County Commission, along with all the countywide offices: sheriff, clerk, treasurer, district attorney, register of deeds. As of noon Wednesday, only one of those offices, the 2nd District County Commission seat, was a two-candidate contest. In that race, Frank Male, a local businessman, has announced he will challenge incumbent Commissioner Nancy Thellman.
The lack of competition for most county offices is perhaps an endorsement of the job being done by current officials, but it still will be unfortunate if Douglas County voters have few, if any, choices on their county ballots in the August primary and November general election.
Any concerns about county elections this year, of course, are overshadowed by the election snarl for state and federal offices created by the Kansas Legislature’s failure to complete its redistricting duties. Assuming that the three federal judges are able to quickly complete redistricting maps for the U.S. House, state Legislature and state board of education, it’s still possible for primary elections to go forward on schedule, but there are many uncertainties. Based on state statute, the filing deadlines for those offices have been delayed until June 11, but the law makes no provision for what happens if the maps aren’t set in time to meet the June 11 deadline.
As Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said Wednesday, the state is in “uncharted territory” in dealing with further redistricting and election delays that could throw off the entire election calendar. For instance, the requirement to mail ballots to voters overseas 45 days ahead of the election, Shew said, “is not a soft deadline”; it is a legal requirement. He also noted that polling places and poll workers already have been arranged for the Aug. 7 primary, but, if that election is delayed, there is no guarantee that the same locations and workers will be available on the new date.
There’s not much local residents can do about the redistricting mess, but they do have some control over how county elections progress. It’s late in the game to make such an important decision, but we hope some candidates still will step up to fill out the county election ballot. Even if county voters generally are happy with the officials they have, there are many benefits to having competitive races for those offices.