Local elections, those for city councils and school boards, for example, are officially non-partisan contests in Kansas; candidates are not identified on the ballot by political party. But this year, Johnson County political parties are actively promoting slates of candidates for the various offices. Their partisan efforts are raising concerns about their effect on local issues.
Rockhurst Political Science Professor Tom Ringenberg says this phenomenon is another example of the political divide in the country:
“You can make it difficult to put party labels or make it difficult to participate in the actual ballot, but they’re definitely going to be involved in the electoral processes because they care about these policy issues,”
But Ringenberg adds that although it may simplify contests in the minds of voters, the uniqueness of local races may be lost with party promotion:
“Good because people are paying attention, but maybe the things we’re paying attention to are not the kinds of things a school principal or city manager would want the democratically elected representatives to be discussing,”
Johnson County resident Rose Gerringer favors the parties’ involvement in local races:
“I wish all elections were partisan, so that vacancies would be chosen by party precinct leaders not the sitting board members. Some councils and boards have been accused of timing resignations and subsequently choosing replacements to maintain the board’s philosophical bent.”
But she echoes Professor Ringenberg’s concern about the partisan effect on strictly local issues:
“If every election had candidates’ party affiliations listed, some voters would only pay attention to that and not policy positions.”
We reached out to the chairs of both the Democratic and Republican Parties in Johnson County for comment on their involvement in local races in 2023. No response was received from either organization.