Politics & Government

Senate approves bill moving local elections to fall

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TOPEKA — A bill to move local elections to the fall, make it harder for candidates to get off the ballot and get rid of the state’s seldom-held presidential primary won approval in the state Senate on Thursday.

Senators approved House Bill 2104 on a vote of 22-13.

The major provision would move the dates of local elections. Instead of March primaries and April runoffs, primaries would be held in August and runoffs in November.

The bill would hold city and school board elections in odd-numbered years, while federal, state and county elections would be in even-numbered years.

The local elections would remain nonpartisan.

An eclectic group of senators opposed the bill, including Democrats and conservative and moderate Republicans.

Sen. Dan Kerschen, R-Garden Plain, voted no.

“All of my communities, every one of them, supported spring elections,” Kerschen said. “They like what they’re doing. It’s too political to go the other way. This whole thing was political from the start.”

Supporters, led by Secretary of State Kris Kobach, originally proposed consolidating local elections with state elections and having mayor, city council and school candidates run with their political party. They contended that consolidation would bring the highest turnout.

Opponents, including city and school associations, said local elections would get lost in the long ballots that include more prominent races for president, governor and Congress.

Sen. Mike Petersen, R-Wichita, said he voted in favor of the bill because states that alternate elections between odd and even years do have higher turnout than Kansas gets in spring elections.

“I think people kind of think more about elections in the fall than the spring,” he said.

He said he could have supported consolidating the elections in even years, if they remained nonpartisan and local races were moved to the top of the ballot ahead of the national and state candidates.

The provision about candidates getting off the ballot was added at Kobach’s request to avoid confusion like what happened in last year’s U.S. Senate race, when Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor withdrew as the Democratic nominee, giving independent Greg Orman a one-on-one shot at unseating Republican Sen. Pat Roberts.

Orman was well-funded and led in the polls at the time, but Roberts eventually won the election handily.

HB 2104 would allow withdrawal of a party-nominated candidate only for severe medical hardship or a move out of state.

The parties would be required to replace the withdrawn candidate on the ballot.

The cancellation of future state presidential primaries is mostly a recognition that Kansas cancels its primary every four years because of cost and the likelihood that both parties’ presidential candidates will have their nominations essentially locked up by the time Kansas gets to vote.

Kansas hasn’t held a presidential primary election since 1992.

The bill solidifies the caucus system used to choose Kansas parties’ presidential delegates in the past several elections.

The bill now proceeds to the House, where it is expected to face a closer vote than in the Senate.

If it passes the House, it will go to the governor for signature into law.

Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or dlefler@wichitaeagle.com.

How they voted

Here’s how south-central Kansas lawmakers voted on the elections bill, which passed 22-13.

All area Republicans voted yes except for Dan Kerschen, Garden Plain, and Carolyn McGinn, Sedgwick.

Democrat Oletha Faust-Goudeau of Wichita did not vote.