Don Moler, executive director of the League of Kansas Municipalities, hit the nail on the head regarding various attempts to move local elections to November and turn them into partisan contests.
“City elections have been held in the springtime since 1861,” said Moler. “That’s a period of 152 years, and we believe there’s no reason to move these elections unless we can show some truly compelling reasons to do it.”
So far, those compelling reasons haven’t surfaced. All Kansans have is speculation by the secretary of state’s office that moving city and school elections to November would boost voter participation. Boosting voter turnout is always a good goal, but there are many drawbacks to the proposals that are on the table.
Chief among those concerns are the two Senate bills that would turn local city and school board elections into partisan contests by forcing those candidates to run as Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, etc. Adding party politics to city and school elections is a terrible idea. City commissioners and school board members should be elected on the basis of their knowledge of local issues and their commitment to serving local constituents, not on the basis of their affiliation with a political party on the state or national level.
One Senate bill puts local elections in even-numbered years, when turnout would be driven primarily by hot state and national contests rather than by the voters’ interest in local races. The other Senate bill would have local elections stand alone in odd-numbered years. A House bill would move local elections to the fall in odd-numbered years but keep them nonpartisan.
Moving local elections to the fall in odd-numbered years, when they wouldn’t be combined with state and national races, would seem to have little impact on turnout. In fact, having primaries in August, when many families are on vacation, may actually decrease primary participation. Holding the elections in the fall in even-numbered years might increase participation, but it also increases the chances that local races will be overshadowed by state and national races.
Having local primaries in August would greatly increase the length of campaigns for those offices, which isn’t a plus. The longer campaign period is necessary for people in statewide races, but the current, shorter period between local primaries and general elections helps focus attention on those races.
A representative of the Secretary of State’s office told a Senate committee last week that combining the elections would be an improvement because, “There would be no confusion about if there is an election or when it is.”
Are Kansas voters really that easily confused? As Moler said, they’ve been voting for school board and city officials in the spring since Kansas achieved statehood. Making those races partisan and moving them to November where they are more likely to get lost amid state and national races is not an improvement. Once again, it seems legislators are seeking a solution to a nonexistent problem.
They should leave spring elections alone.