Area voters head to polls today for sales tax, city government and school board elections

A visitor arrives at the Douglas County Courthouse, Monday, Nov. 6, 2017, as local residents fill out advance ballots for Tuesday's sales tax, city commission and school board elections.

Area residents will vote in Lawrence government and school board elections Tuesday, marking the first local general election under the new autumn election schedule.

Voters will select their next city government members and school board members in Lawrence, Baldwin City, Eudora and Lecompton. Lawrence voters will also decide on three special citywide sales taxes that total 0.55 percent.

In 2015, state legislators moved municipal and school board elections from the spring to the fall, mirroring state and federal elections with the aim of increasing voter turnout. Lawrence Mayor Leslie Soden said she hopes that is indeed the result.

“I really hope that it does increase turnout,” Soden said. “Local elections influence everyday lives for people even more so than national and state.”


VOTER GUIDE: Lawrence City Commission election

Turnout may already be getting a boost from advance mail-in ballots. The Douglas County clerk’s office spent $27,000 to mail out advance ballot applications to county voters for the current election cycle. It was the first time the office had done that for city and school board elections, and 5,500 mail-in ballots were requested, according to Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew.

As of noon on Monday, Shew said that about 4,750 advance ballots had been received. Of those, he said about 3,500 were mail-in ballots, and the clerk’s office will continue to receive additional mail-in ballots over the next few days.

Shew said in-person advance voting was about the same as previous elections, but that the mailing resulted in a good return rate for advance mail-in ballots. He said over half of those requesting a ballot had never voted in a local election before.

“It seems like it raised awareness of this election,” Shew said.

And, due to a new state law, the roughly 2,000 voters who requested a mail-in ballot and have yet to return it have additional time to do so. Mail-in ballots must be postmarked no later than Tuesday and received by the clerk’s office by Friday. Mail-in ballots can also be dropped off at the clerk’s office or at any Douglas County polling site on Tuesday.

Tuesday night’s vote totals are never official, but Shew said that subsequently counted ballots tend to follow election-day trends. However, he said the larger number of mail-in ballots that will still be uncounted Tuesday could potentially change that if races are extremely close.

“If you had a race that’s within 20 to 30 votes and we’re going to get maybe 500 more, that has a potential to have an impact,” Shew said.

Lawrence voters will pick among six City Commission candidates for three open seats. Incumbents Lisa Larsen and Matthew Herbert face newcomers Dustin Stumblingbear, Jennifer Ananda, Mike Anderson and Bassem Chahine. Larsen showed a strong lead in the primary election, finishing more than 800 votes ahead of the pack. The primary vote totals of the second, third and fourth place candidates — Herbert, Stumblingbear and Ananda — were within about 300 votes.

Another change under the new election schedule is when candidates will be seated. Critics of the schedule said it would disrupt long-established schedules for local governments because newly elected members would take office in January following the November elections. Previously, newly elected city commissioners were seated shortly after the election.

Soden said that two-month period may be beneficial for newly elected commissioners.

“I think that the gap in time will give City Hall a good opportunity to bring elected candidates up to speed on different issues,” Soden said. “And it will give them more of an educational period than perhaps other commissioners have had in the past.”

Because long-term Commissioner Mike Amyx is not seeking re-election, there will be at least one lame duck commissioner come January. Amyx said that status won’t affect his decision making.

“I’ve always taken great pride in the service and helping my community,” Amyx said. “I still plan to do things the way I’ve always done them.”

Though Amyx said he supported maintaining the previous election schedule, he thinks the longer campaign season does have some benefits.

“It does give the public the opportunity to find out as much as they can about the candidates and where they stand on the various issues,” Amyx said.

Lawrence residents will also vote on three sales tax renewals, which total 0.55 percent. If all three are renewed, the taxes are projected to generate $116 million in total for infrastructure, transit and affordable housing from 2019 to 2029. If not renewed by voters, the taxes will automatically expire in 2019.

Currently, the 0.55 percent sales tax breaks down as follows: 0.3 percent for infrastructure, 0.2 percent for transit and 0.05 percent for expanded transit service. Under the sales tax renewal proposal, the 0.05 percent would be repurposed to fund the city’s affordable housing trust fund.

Voters in the Lawrence school district will elect three people to the school board. Five candidates — Ronald “G.R.” Gordon-Ross, James Alan Hollinger, Melissa Johnson, Kelly Jones and Gretchen Lister — are seeking election.


VOTER GUIDE: Lawrence School Board election

Baldwin City, Eudora and Lecompton voters will also head to the polls for several contested races.

Casey Simoneau is challenging incumbent Baldwin City Mayor Marilyn Pearse. Voters will elect two new members to the Baldwin City Council from a field of six candidates: A.J. Stevens, Brian Cramer, Brian Messenger, Susan Pitts, Peter Sexton and former Baldwin City Councilman Shane Starkey.

Voters in the Eudora school district will elect three people to the school board. Four candidates — Eric Votaw, Michael Kelso, Joseph Hurla and Eric Ahlander — are seeking election.

Lecompton school district voters will decide among Nick Fergus, Stephanie Confer and Brad Guess for Position 6 on the Lecompton school board.

Polls will be open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Polling locations and maps are available on the Douglas County website.