If increasing voter turnout were the only outcome of the proposal to move the spring elections to the traditional fall cycle, opposing it would be difficult.
After all, voter turnout for city commission and school board elections in this community and in many others in Kansas leaves much to be desired. Sometimes small minorities of the citizenry — though not small minorities of those who vote — choose the people who set city and school district policies.
As it happens, there’s a move in the Kansas Legislature to shift the spring elections from April to November. Among its advocates is Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who recently told legislative committees considering the proposal that it would boost voter participation. He’s probably right.
But for the shift to work, Mr. Kobach added, local governmental bodies whose members are elected from geographical districts would have to switch to at-large elections. More important, city commission and school board elections would have to become partisan affairs. Otherwise, the number of ballots needed in such a system would complicate the process, increase confusion and likely contribute to election mistakes.
Requiring at-large elections would not affect Manhattan, though other cities whose officials are elected by district might object to the change. But turning our local elections into partisan contests would be a mistake.
We won’t pretend that some partisanship doesn’t enter into the races or that voters couldn’t guess at candidates’ party affiliation. Yet local candidates have generally done a creditable job of avoiding party politics. And it’s hard to imagine how turning city commission and school board campaigns into Democrat vs. Republican contests would serve the interests of this community. Doing so would only further politicize local governmental units that have traditionally put the good of the community ahead of other considerations.
Also, adding local elections to the November ballot could well leave local candidates and issues starved for attention and competing at a disadvantage against better funded state and national candidates.
Both the League of Kansas Municipalities and the Kansas Association of School Boards are wary of having such elections moved to November, in part because they recognize that nonpartisan local elections are different from state and national elections and deserve the full attention of voters.