TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A legislative committee is looking into changing the way municipal elections are conducted in Kansasto boost turnout.
Rep. Steve Huebert, R-Valley Center, believes it’s time to abandon the system of holding city and school board races on a different cycle than federal and state races. He wants to combine municipal elections with higher-profile November races that generate larger turnout, the Lawrence Journal-World reports.
“Plain and simple, turnout for the current system is pitiful, and it gets worse every two years,” Huebert said. “We need to either figure out a way to increase turnout for the current system or move the elections.”
In the past five years, at least 10 municipal election bills have been offered. Some have proposed merging municipal races with state and federal races in even-numbered years while others have proposed holding them in November of odd-numbered years. And some have even proposed making them partisan races.
So far, none of those proposals has passed, but lawmakers did agree at the end of the 2014 session to have an interim committee study the issue and make a report to be considered in 2015.
As the Special Committee on Ethics, Elections and Local Government began working Friday, Kansas Association of County Clerks and Election Officials president Jamie Shew testified that the association is opposed to merging municipal elections with state and federal races.
Shew, who is also the Douglas County clerk, said combining the elections would involve lengthy ballots, resulting in what is often called “ballot fatigue.” Shew said there are other ways to increase voter turnout and cut costs besides moving the elections, such as holding mail ballot elections for local races, something he said has been successful in other states.
But Shew said the association has taken no position on the idea of moving them to November of odd-numbered years. Supporters of the idea say it would keep municipal elections separate, but would send a consistent message to voters that November is election season, regardless of what year it is.
Detractors include Lawrence school board president Shannon Kimball, who said moving the local elections to November would be especially hard for school districts because it would mean new board members would take office in the middle of a school year and the middle of a budget cycle.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is among those who support merging municipal elections with the state and federal races, and he supports making them partisan races, arguing that it would reduce the number of different kinds of ballots that would have to be printed.
“We should combine all elections in the fall of even-numbered years if and only if steps are taken to reduce the number of ballot variations in any given county,” Kobach told the committee.
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