MCT: Kobach outlines proposal to move city elections to fall

1/23/2013

By BRENT D. WISTROM

By BRENT D. WISTROM

The Wichita Eagle

TOPEKA (MCT) — If Kansas creates partisan city elections and makes all school board positions at-large, the state could save money and increase voter turnout, Secretary of State Kris Kobach said Tuesday.

Kobach said local officials would probably need to make city council districts match up with the boundaries of some state legislative districts in order to draw his support for shifting local elections from spring to November.

Kobach's outline for the change comes as lawmakers get ready to discuss in coming weeks a proposal to shift local elections to November.

Without those changes, poll workers could be overwhelmed by the variety of ballots needed to accommodate overlapping state, city and school board districts, Kobach said.

"The complexity will probably increase the length of the lines and increase the chances of poll workers making errors," he told a Senate panel.

Some lawmakers, including Sen. Michael O'Donnell, R-Wichita, have advocated for a change to increase voter participation, but others see it as a potential mess.

Leavenworth Republican Sen. Steve Fitzgerald said the idea could lead to an overwhelmingly political season where candidates are virtually lined up at voters' front doors with their campaign pitches.

"The real concern becomes the availability of front yard space for yard signs," he said. "It's going to be ridiculous."

Republicans have suggested that shifting school board and municipal elections to the fall could save $80,000 in the Wichita area while increasing turnout. In spring 2011, about 14 percent of eligible voters turned out to vote in local city and school board elections. About half that many turned out for the primary.

About 67 percent of registered voters statewide voted last November; 65 percent voted in Sedgwick County.

Another idea circulating in the Capitol would be shifting local elections to November in odd-numbered years when there are no statewide races.

Kobach said that could increase voter turnout some but that it wouldn't save money.

"It's kind of a compromise," he said.

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