June 24, 2024

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Turnout in School Board, Municipal Elections a Mixed Bag

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Kansas lawmakers moved municipal and school board elections from the spring to the fall hoping it would result in a spike in voter turnout. It worked in some counties, but not in others, according to Rep. Keith Esau. Esau is the chair of the Kansas House Committee on Elections and he advocated for the election scheduling change.

Kansas lawmakers moved local elections from the spring to the fall hoping for a spike in voter turnout. It worked in some counties, but not in others.

There isn’t a centralized location where Kansas’ 105 counties report voter turnout, but Esau says overall turnout was better. He lists Johnson County, the state’s most populated, as an example.

“I would have liked to see bigger turnout, but we got a larger turnout than we normally do,” Esau says.

Slightly more than 16 percent of the county’s 393,755 voters cast ballots in the 2017 election. Turnout has hovered around 10 percent in the last three municipal elections. About 10 percent of eligible voters turned out in 2015 and in 2011. In 2013, only 8 percent of eligible voters cast ballots.

Douglas County also saw a spike in turnout. There, 22 percent of registered voters cast ballots, up from 16.5 percent in 2015.

In Sedgwick County, the state’s second most populated, voter turnout was higher than in 2013, but only half of turnout in 2015. About 8 percent of registered Sedgwick County voters turned up to polls in the 2017 fall election. That’s up from a 6 percent turnout in the spring of 2013, but in the spring of 2015, 16 percent of registered Sedgwick County voters cast ballots. Turnout in Sedgwick may have been hampered by voter fatigue. The municipal election marked the second big election in a matter of months. County voters elected Congressman Ron Estes in a special election in April; the primary election was in August, followed by the general election in November.

Ronnie Metsker, Johnson County Election Commssioner, says some people attribute turnout to moving the election and some attribute turnout to campaigns.

“I think it’s both, frankly,” Metsker says. The county election office prepared for turnout of up to 20 percent, but anticipated some locations may see more voters than others based on what was on the ballot.

Campaigns drive voters to the polls, but Metsker says he isn’t surprised when Johnson County local races draw small turnout.

“In Johnson County, there’s just not a lot that’s broken,” he says. “We’re a thriving community made up of 19 villages.”

Most residents are happy with their city governments and school boards in those communities, according to Metsker.

“So you have no one who runs against anyone because they think everything is fine,” he says. “I think that lends itself to low turnout. I think part of it is people are satisfied.”

There were pockets of the community with highly contested races. For example, the Shawnee Mission School District Board of Education race saw a handful of candidates and the Shawnee city council races were all contested. But in neighboring Leawood, none of the city races were contested.

 

That meant pockets of high turnout coupled with pockets of low turnout. In the end, that translated to 16 percent turnout countywide.

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