If locally elected officials were to march on the Statehouse and demand that the spring municipal elections continue to be held in the spring, perhaps legislators would drop a proposal to align local elections with state and national elections.
Then again, state lawmakers might tune them out. It happens.
What might matter more is that the proposal has the support of the Kansas Republican Party, which doesn’t just want to change the dates of local elections but also wants them converted into partisan elections. The latter provision isn’t in the initial bill yet, but it could easily be added on the House floor.
We oppose both ideas. We oppose moving local elections to the fall despite the fact that holding all the elections at one time would almost certainly boost voter turnout — probably significantly — and could save money.
What also almost certainly would happen is that school district or city issues would fail to get the attention they deserve. They simply wouldn’t be able to compete for attention with debates involving state and national candidates and issues. What’s more, moving local elections would create logistical problems. As Frank Henderson, president of the Kansas Association of School Boards, told a House committee Wednesday, moving school board elections to the fall and installing new members in January, as the bill calls for, would mean they take office halfway through a school year and more than halfway through the fiscal year.
As for making local elections partisan, it would be counterproductive. Neighborhood improvements, potholes and school district expansions aren’t partisan issues, and there’s no reason to arbitrarily make them partisan.
Tom Arnold, state GOP chairman, disagrees. In written testimony, he said, “Aligning with a political party creates a foundation of resources to allow the candidate’s message to be better disseminated to the voters.”
Local candidates might be better funded if they ran as Republicans or Democrats, but they might also be expected to support the rest of their party’s slate. And they would be subject to litmus tests that have little bearing on local issues.
We’ve already seen honorable area legislative candidates from both political parties subjected to smear campaigns funded by state or national organizations that don’t know this area or its candidates. Let’s not also subject city commission and school district candidates to that.
Yes, we lament low turnout in spring elections, but inflating turnout by burying local elections at the bottom of ballots on which too many voters follow the recommendations of distant party leaders wouldn’t be an improvement. It would be a step backward.