Editorial: Election moves

The Kansas House should reject plans to move city and school board elections.

A bill that would move local city and school board elections to November in odd-numbered years narrowly passed the Kansas Senate on Thursday. The bill now goes to the House, which we hope will carefully weigh any possible benefit of this bill against the administrative costs and problems it will create.

The bill’s primary champion in the Senate is Sen. Mitch Holmes, R-St. John. The bill Holmes originally introduced would have moved local elections to November in even-numbered years, lumping them in with state and national contests AND making them partisan races. That was a terrible idea, which was rejected by the Senate Committee on Ethics and Elections, which instead passed a bill that would move the elections to November in odd-numbered years and keep them non-partisan.

What, exactly does this bill accomplish? It keeps local elections non-partisan, which is good, but it introduces a number of other undesirable changes. Primary elections would be held in August, meaning that school board and city election campaigns would be much longer and probably more expensive. It also requires local officials to take office in January, which is particularly problematic for school board members who would be forced to begin their terms in the middle of an academic and fiscal year instead of in June, as they do now. Changing the election cycle also will create some added expenses for cities and school districts.

So why are we doing this?

Holmes contends that moving the elections to November will improve turnout and claimed during the Senate debate that data from other states showed that moving elections to the fall would accomplish that goal. However, research presented last year to the Legislature’s Special Committee on Ethics, Elections and Local Government was based on the effect of moving elections to November in even-numbered years, which Holmes made clear he still supports. That raises the question of whether Holmes and other supporters of this bill are looking at moving local elections to November in odd-numbered years primarily as an interim step to the ultimate goal of making them partisan and combining them with state and national elections in even-numbered years.

During the Senate debate, Holmes also chastised opponents of the bill for being unwilling to make a change and told senators that voters will welcome the election move. “This is not controversial to John Q. Public,” he said. Yet, he also acknowledged that opponents of moving the elections had inundated lawmakers with petitions against the bill. Doesn’t that indicate that “John Q. Public” is at least a little concerned about this change?

The bottom line is that legislators have failed to make the case that this change is needed. Other measures, such as increasing the use of mail ballots, would be a far more logical step to try to boost voter participation. It would be less expensive to try and would avoid the upheaval of changing election calendars and local terms of office.

The Kansas House still has a chance to stop this ill-conceived plan. Kansans should tell their representatives to leave the state’s local election process alone.