As Kansas communities prepare to choose members of their city councils and school boards on April 2, some state lawmakers continue their strange push to move and politicize these elections. Locals know best, and they don’t want this meddling reform.
As the League of Kansas Municipalities’ Don Moler said: “City elections have been held in the springtime since 1861. That’s a period of 152 years, and we believe there’s no reason to move these elections unless we can show some truly compelling reasons to do it.”
True, turnout for spring elections tends to be paltry. In Sedgwick County, for example, the Feb. 26 primary brought out just 4.7 percent of registered voters – apparently a record low, according to Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman. In April 2011 the turnout was just 14 percent, compared with 24 percent in April 2007.
But the proposed fixes would create new problems without guaranteeing more attention for these races.
Some lawmakers want to move the spring municipal and school board elections to November in odd-numbered years. But even as Brad Bryant, deputy assistant secretary of state, testified in favor of that idea, he acknowledged there was no data indicating it would improve turnout. Nor would it save money.
Another bill would move the elections to November in even-numbered years, when the contests would take a backseat to the high-profile fights for seats in Congress, the Legislature, the governor’s office and the White House.
Worse, some legislators want to make municipal and school board races partisan. While the political leanings of members of these governing bodies often become evident, during their service if not their campaigns, much of what they do week to week is refreshingly nonpartisan. It would be a shame to lose that in Kansas, and see even routine votes newly dictated by party lines and loyalties.
As Topeka USD 501 board member Doug Glenn testified last month: “School board members must be free to do their important work without being concerned about the pressure of a political platform or agenda and whether they have the blessings of a political party.”
Plus, if elections for school board and city council were partisan, federal employees and military personnel would be prohibited from running for these positions.
Another proposal would force all candidates for school board to run citywide, overriding what has been a thoughtful (if confusing) process locally to use districts to ensure wide representation. And if school boards were elected in November, new members would take their seats in January – right in the middle of the school year – rather than July.
None of the possible reforms is worth the trouble it would cause. Legislators should butt out and leave it to local voters to improve their participation – on April 2 and for many springs to come.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman