Editorial: It’s in the mail

It will be interesting to see how mail balloting affects voter participation in an upcoming vote on a local option budget question for the Lawrence school district.

If the state wants to increase voter participation in city and school board elections, there are better options than combining those elections with state and federal elections.

One of the options advocated by election officials across the state is the use of mail ballots, which have successfully boosted voter participation in a number of local elections across the state.

Voters in the Lawrence school district will have their first chance to test mail balloting next month when they are asked whether to approve an increase in the district’s local option budget to help the district recoup funding it lost when legislators changed how per-pupil funding is calculated.

This will be the first time a mail ballot has been used in Douglas County, but the system has been used to good effect in other Kansas communities. In Johnson County, for instance, the ballots have been widely used for school bond issues and other special elections. According to Johnson County Election Commissioner Brian Newby, the lowest voter turnout in a mail ballot over the last several election cycles still was above the highest turnout for a regular April municipal election.

Voter turnout for Lawrence City Commission and school board elections has been dismally low in the last several cycles, and it will be interesting to compare that turnout with the rate of return for the upcoming mail ballot. Keep an eye on your mailboxes. Ballots for the LOB vote will be mailed next week to all district voters who are registered as of Jan. 6. The ballots will come with postage-paid envelopes that must be received by the clerk’s office — not just postmarked — by noon on Jan. 27. Don’t let your ballot get lost amid the junk mail.

Although the LOB vote may not draw as much interest as a city commission or school board election, it will provide a read on how much a mail ballot might boost participation. Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said that, judging from the experience in other states, a mail ballot might turn what could have been a 14 or 15 percent turnout into a 25 or 30 percent turnout.

If that’s the case, it certainly makes mail ballots worth considering for future local elections in Douglas County and across the state — and it’s a far better strategy than turning local elections into partisan races and combining them with state and federal elections.