Local officials: Keep city elections in spring

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February 12, 2015 - 12:00 AM

Kansas voters could potentially see election and ballot changes from the outcome of this year’s Legislative session.
Senate Bill 171 was introduced Monday by the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee to move city and school elections to the fall of even-numbered years. This change would require candidates to file with a political party. Currently, elections for city and school board positions are non-partisan.
In testimony before the Senate on Wednesday, Aaron Estabrook, a school board member of USD 383 Manhattan-Ogden and a combat veteran, said making the election partisan would prevent military employees from running for office.
Members of the military “should not engage in partisan political activity,” Estabrook said, referring to U.S. military code, and should “avoid inferences that their political activities imply or appear to imply official sponsorship, approval, or endorsement,” of any political party or faction.
Estabrook is not alone in his situation.
Austin Sigg, a supply sergeant with the Kansas Army National Guard, is a candidate for Ward 3 for Iola City Council. Requiring him to file as a member of a political party would prevent Sigg from being able to run for elective office. Various councils and boards across the state are facing similar issues.
More than 60 school districts in Kansas, including USD 257, signed a petition voicing their opposition to making school board elections partisan and moving them to November.
Jack Koehn, superintendent of schools for USD 257, said moving the election would create a variety of problems. One problem would be new members coming in during the middle of a fiscal year. All terms of office would begin on the second Monday in January. With elections held in the spring, as they currently are, members come on board at the beginning of the district’s fiscal year, beginning July 1.
Moving the elections to November would potentially create a “lame duck” board, Koehn said, thereby impeding discussions of administrator evaluations, teacher negotiations and budget preparation.
Koehn is also concerned the issues facing a school district would be lost if its elections were lumped in with state and national offices.
“One reason the state wants to move the elections is because of low voter participation in April, and I get that, but our election would be buried under all the other federal and state information,” he said.
Allen County Clerk, Sherrie Reibel, said moving the election “isn’t the answer to get more voter turnout.” A fear of Riebel’s is the ballot would become too lengthy for voters to manage.
“There is room for human error in situations like this,” Riebel said. “If we had to expand the ballot to two pages voter fatigue might occur.”
Local elections would come at the end of the ballot.
Riebel said advance voting is another way to promote voting. Advance voting begins on March 18 for this April election.
Filing fees are currently $5 but the bill would raise it that fee to $20. This might not seem like a large increase but Reibel said the cost could detour potential candidates from running.

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