Saving money and increasing participation in local city and school elections certainly are desirable goals, but the problems that would come from moving city elections from April to November far outweigh the advantages.
The Kansas House Elections Committee discussed the idea of consolidation last week, and Secretary of State Kris Kobach voiced support for the idea of consolidating local elections, now held in the spring, with partisan national and state elections held in November.
“I think it can be done and I think it should be done,” he told the committee. “It will definitely increase participation.”
But Kobach said such a shift would only work if Kansas voters accepted significant changes to the way they elect local city councils and commissions and school boards. First, he said, cities and districts that elect local officials by geographic districts would have to drop that practice because the number of different ballots that would be necessary to accommodate such a system would be too confusing for poll workers and increase the possibility of election errors. Cities that currently choose to use districts to ensure geographic representation on their boards and commissions would have to go to an at-large election system.
Lawrence already uses an at-large system to elect its city commissioners and school board members, but moving local elections to November would require another major change, Kobach said: introducing party primaries to the system. Does anyone think that turning Lawrence City Commission and school board elections into partisan, Republican-vs.-Democrat races would be an improvement? Such a move would only politicize a body that should remain dedicated to the good of the community as a whole.
It’s true that November general elections draw considerably more voters than local elections, particularly in a presidential election year. There’s some question, however, about whether local elections would get lost among state and federal races on the November ballot and whether voters in those elections would be sufficiently focused on the local races and issues that have such a significant impact on their daily lives and taxes.
Eliminating April elections probably would save some money, and it might well increase the number of voters in local races, but the trade-offs are just too high.