House committee approves bill to move local and school board elections to fall of even-numbered years

By Kansas Association of School Boards
March 17, 2015

The House Elections Committee on Monday approved a bill that would move school board and city council elections to the fall of even-numbered years. Currently, those contests are in the spring of odd-numbered years.

Committee Chair Mark Kahrs, R-Wichita, said the intent of the bill was to increase turnout by linking the local races to national and state contests. Approximately half of Kansas voters cast ballots in the last presidential race, while recent city council primaries in some areas of the state drew single-digit percentages of voters.

Kahrs said he agreed to keep the local contests non-partisan because changing them to partisan, as requested by the Kansas Republican Party and Secretary of State Kris Kobach, would not gain majorities in the Legislature.

But opponents of moving the elections, including KASB, said local issues and candidates would get lost in the activity of national and state campaigns. They suggested one way to increase turnout was expansion of mail ballots.

In addition, Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, said it was inappropriate for the committee to approve the bill after adding numerous amendments, which he said hadn’t been properly vetted. “You're creating a monster here by doing this,” he said.

But Kahrs insisted the amendments were clear and had been thoroughly discussed.

The committee was working on Senate Bill 171, which had been narrowly approved in the Senate. That bill moved city and school board elections to the fall of odd-numbered years.

But Kahrs pushed through an amendment to move the contests to the fall of even-numbered years, saying turnout would be greater.

Last week, however, county election officials said Kahrs’ proposal would be the most difficult to administer because there would be a partisan primary in August for state offices and a non-partisan primary the same day for city and school board elections.

The House committee also approved an amendment that would put the local races at the top of the ballot. Kahrs said this would counter voter fatigue or ballot drop off on lengthy ballots, but Carmichael said voters would simply drop off from voting in other races.

The committee also removed a Senate provision that would have limited bond and tax elections to August and November. The committee also approved an amendment from the Kansas League of Municipalities to address a concern that the bill would have made it easy for cities to get rid of the city manager form of government.

Four members on the 13-member committee voted against the motion to recommend approval of the bill. Those were Carmichael, Tom Burroughs, D-Kansas City, Larry Campbell, R-Olathe, and Virgil Peck, R-Tyro.

The legislation next goes to the full House for consideration.

Nearly 200 school boards have passed resolutions in support of keeping the election system the way it is. School officials are encouraged to contact their House members to let them know how they feel about these proposals.