A proposed law that would change when city commissioners are elected is creating both confusion and concern at Lawrence City Hall.
A Kansas Senate committee earlier this week advanced a bill to the full Senate that would move city commission elections to November of odd-numbered years. Currently, general elections are conducted in April of odd-numbered years.
Previously, lawmakers had proposed a bill that would move elections to November of even-numbered years so they would coincide with gubernatorial, Statehouse, congressional and presidential elections. Several lawmakers still support that version of the bill, and a spokesman with the League of Kansas Municipalities said that proposal may still re-emerge.
Either way — November elections in either odd or even-numbered years — is drawing a cool response from Lawrence City Hall.
"It is an incomplete solution in search of a problem," said City Manager David Corliss.
The law also would change the date of school board elections, and local school district leaders previously have expressed concern about the proposal.
But supporters of the bill have argued that November elections would increase voter turnout for local elections, which frequently have had turnouts of less than 20 percent in Lawrence.
Corliss, though, said it is not clear how November elections in odd-numbered years will draw any more than April elections in odd-numbered years. In either case, the only races on the ballot will be local ones.
A switch to November elections in even-numbered years would pair city and school board races up with higher profile legislative and presidential contests. But City Commissioner Bob Schumm said he is afraid that would create other problems.
Currently, city and school board races are nonpartisan, and the most recent proposal would allow them to remain that way. But Schumm said he thinks being paired with highly partisan races for governor, Congress and other seats will change the nature of City Commission politics.
"I have to believe that somewhere in there partisan politics will take hold," Schumm said.
The idea of local elections in November, however, isn't new. County commission seats and countywide positions such as sheriff, district attorney and other positions are elected in November. All those, though, are partisan races.
Michael Koss, legal counsel with the League of Kansas Municipalities, said cites from across the state have been urging legislators to keep city elections in April.
"We think the bill has lost some momentum because of that, but we think it is still very possible that it could move forward," Koss said.
The bill is the Senate substitute for House Bill 2141.