Editorial: Voting moves

Shifting local elections to November is a poor way to address low voter turnout.

Kansas legislators once again are studying different options for moving local city and school board elections.

Their stated goal is to increase voter turnout for those elections. Turnout for local elections admittedly is deplorably low, but all of the proposals currently being considered would create more problems than they would solve.

City and school board elections currently are held in the spring. Primaries, if necessary, are held in March, and the general election in April. All of the proposals being considered would move those elections to November either in even-numbered years, when they would be combined with partisan state and national elections, or in odd-numbered years, when they would be held on their own.

Proponents of November elections in odd-numbered years argue that people are programmed to vote in November and holding elections then would increase turnout. There’s really no data to support that idea, but it might be true. County election officials haven’t taken a position on the odd-numbered November idea but they say that other strategies, such as conducting mail ballot elections, might be a more effective way to boost turnout.

Those election officials have a stronger opinion about the idea of combining local elections with state and national races in even-numbered years. They are concerned about the length of the ballot and the confusion that would be created by combining partisan elections with non-partisan local elections.

Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who supports merging local, state and national elections, has a solution for that. Rather than deal with multiple ballots to accommodate non-partisan local elections, Kobach would simply turn all local school board and city elections into partisan races, in which candidates have to declare and run with a party affiliation. Even Kobach told a recent legislative committee hearing that without such action to reduce ballot variations, combining elections isn’t a good idea.

That should be the end of that discussion. Any proposal that includes forcing local elections to become partisan contests is a bad idea. The last thing local school and city races need is to add a layer of partisanship to the mix. These officials need to be focused on what’s best for the community and the children who attend local schools without regard to any state or national partisan agenda. Lawrence School Board President Shannon Kimball said partisan election are “a terrible idea” and points out that moving local elections to November in either odd- or even-numbered years also would throw off the schedule for board terms, which currently start on July 1, the beginning of the fiscal year. Board members elected in November would either wait seven months to take office or would have to take office in the middle of a school year and a budget cycle.

It’s true that low voter turnout, including the 17 percent turnout for the last local elections in Lawrence, is cause for concern. Mail elections and other strategies are worth a try, but shifting these elections to November and, more importantly, turning them into partisan races, is a bad idea.