An effort to combine city and school board elections with other partisan races is another example of Kansas legislators trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist.
Local school board and city council/commission members currently are chosen in non-partisan elections in April during odd-numbered years. Legislation backed by the Kansas Republican Party is seeking to move those elections to November in even-numbered years and combine them with partisan elections for county, state and federal offices. School board and city candidates also would have to run partisan campaigns.
Kelly Arnold, chairman of the Kansas Republican Party, told the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee last week that the intent of the bill was to improve voter turnout for local elections, which traditionally draw fewer voters than elections for state and federal offices, especially in presidential election years. Party leaders also argued that forcing candidates to have political party affiliations could result in additional support from party organizations and could provide some philosophical guidance to voters who didn’t know much about the candidates on the ballot.
It’s true that local elections attract a dismally small voter turnout, but at least most of the voters who turn out for those elections have some knowledge about the races and the candidates who are running. If those elections are lumped in with state and federal races, it will be even harder than it is now for those candidates to get their message out to voters — unless, of course, party organizations pour large sums of money into those races.
As for the other part of the proposal, there is nothing to be gained by forcing city and school board candidates into a partisan stance that likely would encourage partisan divisions on the bodies to which they are elected. City and school officials should be elected to do what is best for their communities and the children in them, not pursue a state and national party agenda. It also was noted at last week’s hearing that military personnel and other federal employees would be barred from running for those offices if the elections were partisan.
During last week’s meeting, the Senate committee did some rewriting on the bill and wisely removed the provision making local elections partisan. Final action on the bill may be taken this week. Before then, legislators should take another look at the remaining provisions in the bill and ask what they really are trying to accomplish on behalf of the state. Local voters aren’t clamoring for a change in this system. Like many other issues being tackled during this legislative session, the timing of local elections might be better left alone.