State lawmakers still discussing local election changes

By: Phil White Email
By: Phil White Email

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WICHITA, Kan. -- A Kansas Senate committee continues to work on a bill that aims to move city and school board elections from the spring to the fall.

Some state lawmakers originally wanted to also make municipal elections partisan. That provision has been removed, but discussion continues on moving the elections to the fall.

Proponents have argued moving city and school district elections to the same time as presidential and gubernatorial elections can boost voter turnout.

"Currently in Kansas, we have an average of six-percent voter turnout in municipal elections," Sen. Michael O'Donnell, R-Wichita, said. "For the presidential elections, we're dealing with over 60 percent of the voter-eligible population turning out to vote."

However, some local office-holders have worried those big races could overshadow local elections.

"A lot of folks thought that the school board and the city council elections would kind of get lost in the weeds," said Wichita City Councilman Jeff Blubaugh.

School districts have expressed concern about having school boards change in the middle of the academic year if their elections are moved to the fall. An amendment that would have left those elections in the spring was rejected.

There is discussion about moving local elections to the fall of odd-numbered years, which is something Blubaugh said he can support.

"I think there would be a benefit to having that primary in August and the election in November, versus having a primary in late February and an election in early April," he said.

Those benefits, Blubaugh said, include not having a primary election when winter weather can keep voters from the polls. However, Blubaugh still wonders how a change in the timing of elections will affect those currently in office.

"I'm only filling the last two years of another council member's vacancy," he said. "Essentially it would add six months onto my term. I was only elected to fill the last two years of the term."

O'Donnell said something has to change to get more voters to the polls.

"The most important races that we have are in the city council and in the school board elections," he said.

O'Donnell added he does not know how much more the committee may discuss the bill. He also does not know the bill's prospects.

"I think there's still a lot of questions surrounding this bill, so it's future is really uncertain at this moment," he said.

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