Elections committee issues no recommendation on moving school board, city elections to November

By Kansas Association of School Boards
December 15, 2014

The 2014 Special Committee on Ethics, Elections and Local Government concluded Friday without issuing a recommendation on moving municipal and school board elections to November.

But the issue is expected to be hotly debated during the 2015 Legislative Session, which starts Jan. 12. KASB opposes moving school board elections.

Committee Chairman Mitch Holmes, a Republican state senator from St. John, said the committee will issue a report that will include information gathered during several meetings. “I’m uncomfortable making any kind of recommendation with so much information to digest,” Holmes said.

On Friday, several county election officials raised concerns about consolidating elections in November.

Combining elections that generate the heaviest turnout with elections that include many different ballots to cover local districts would be “a rough haul and it's going to be a heavy lift,” said Brian Newby, Johnson County Election Commissioner.

Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said he was concerned that the additional elections would make ballots too complicated and long.

"The nightmare for us is a two-page ballot," Shew said, which he said would be cumbersome and prone to errors.

Shew, who is president of the Kansas County Clerks and Elections Officials Association, and Newby said there were many other election issues that officials should be concerned about before focusing on moving election dates.

Newby said in the past 25 years, the number of registered voters in Johnson County has doubled, but the number of people in his office working on elections is the same.

“We are a tragedy waiting to happen,” he said.

Election officials said balloting technology is straining their budgets and they are having a more difficult time finding poll workers and places that will allow polling. For example, many schools have refused to allow polling places because of security concerns.

Supporters of moving the elections say it will save money and increase the number of people voting in the local races.

But others have said having city and school board elections in the spring, separate from the November campaigns, produces more informed voters.

Sarah Anzia, a professor at University of California-Berkeley, told the committee her research shows that teacher and municipal employee groups benefit from having off-cycle elections.

KASB’s Delegate Assembly recently voted in favor of keeping local board elections in non-partisan April elections, rather than the November general elections.

The Kansas Republican Party and Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican, support making the local races partisan and moving them to November.