Senate passes bill moving local elections to November

? City and school board elections in Kansas would no longer be held in the spring under a bill passed Wednesday by the Kansas Senate.

Instead, they would be moved to a schedule mirroring state and national elections, with primary elections in August and general elections in November of odd-numbered years.

The bill passed on a vote of 22-13. Both Douglas County senators, Democrats Marci Francisco of Lawrence and Tom Holland of Baldwin City, voted against the bill.

Supporters contend it will increase voter turnout, which is often less than 20 percent in many local races. In Douglas County, turnout was about 16 percent in the most recent elections in April.

But others argued that bill will create problems, especially for school boards, because it also changes the date when newly elected officials take office.

“I continue to hear some concerns about the timing, and what some people feel are better ways to try to increase participation,” Francisco said.

Currently, new terms for school board members begin on July 1 following the spring elections. City commissioners take office at the next business meeting following the election. Under the bill, both city and school board officials would begin their terms on the second Monday in January following the elections.

Lawrence school board president Shannon Kimball has said that starting in January would mean starting in the middle of a school year, and the middle of a budget cycle. She said new board members would be unprepared for two of the major tasks that school boards undertake that time of year, performance evaluations for superintendents and opening contract talks with teachers unions.

But others say the current schedule presents problems of its own because new board members taking office July 1 immediately have to begin working on complex budgets that must be passed in mid-August.

If the bill becomes law, Kansas would join about a dozen other states that hold local elections in November, and supporters of the bill note that those states have significantly higher voter turnout than Kansas.

Francisco said she was also concerned about holding primary elections in August because in Lawrence, Kansas University students and many faculty members are out of town that time of year. She said it would also extend the length of the general election campaign cycle, which is currently about four to six weeks.

“Every community is going to have particular concerns in terms of timing,” she said.

Holland was not immediately available after the vote to comment.

The bill, which came out of a conference committee earlier this week, now goes to the House for final action.