Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Fall Elections, Continued

Last Friday, I received a call from the Kansas legislature's legislative research group looking for information on how other communities conduct local elections.

As the legislature considers moving spring elections to the fall, there have been a couple of odd arguments against the move.

Namely, a central objection is that the elections are in the spring for a reason.  Why change?

(Now, I think that's an odd stance on many points but mostly because by its nature, isn't every law a change of some sort?  Isn't this the equivalent of the "Not in my backyard!" argument?)

The mission for the legislative research group was to report back about the timing of other local elections.

I responded that I thought local elections really were all over the place.  Intuitively, I would expect about 80 percent of local elections to be either in the April or November timeframes, likely evenly split between the two.  Then, the other 20 percent are sprinkled among the other months, mostly June and September.

But, who needs facts?

Well, they do.  I'm just not sure there is a central place for such a thing.

I gave her a couple of leads, but short of a fast survey among election officials, I don't know how such data could be gathered.  I did also suggest that maybe the search be narrowed to those states that border Kansas, giving the data a conventional wisdom view.

Yesterday's Kansas City Star article on potential changes of Kansas City elections to June was timely.    The driver?  Possible turnout increases.

That's the reason touted for the consideration in Kansas as well.

No one really knows if turnout will increase in Kansas City with a move to June, just like no one knows if turnout will increase in Johnson County if local elections are moved to November.   As an administrator, I've favored moving local spring elections, in odd years, to November of odd years to better load balance elections.

And, I am of the opinion that people correlate "November" with "elections."  That's purely an opinion, though.

The League of Kansas Municipalities has been advocating its own opinions.

The League contests that moving the elections will have little to no impact on turnout.

First, I would point out that because we've had local elections in Kansas in the spring for 153 years, we really don't have reliable data to suggest what the outcome would be if things were done differently.  I don't know what triggered the spring thought 1861 but society is a bit different today, so maybe the timing of elections should be, too.

And if doing something different than has been done for 153 years might have "little impact" on turnout, that still might be enough to try something new.

The League also compared average temperatures in April and November and, finding them the same, suggested no benefit from moving.

They overlook the primary being in August rather than February.  It rarely snows in August.  

Both the House and the Senate committees on elections have advanced bills to move elections to the fall of odd years.  The Senate, with an amendment, excluded Johnson County Community College and Water One of Johnson County.  This effectively moves the city elections to the fall but keeps the spring elections--4 elections now instead of 2--so we're hoping that this is fixed.

Quite likely, we're headed to a legislative conference committee inflection point, where the details are sorted out in early May.  I'm still hopeful, although, it's a long shot, that someone will, at the 11th hour, include a provision that the school's have in-service day on the November election days and be available as polling places.

If that doesn't happen this year, it probably will never happen.

I've learned in public policy that chance favors the prepared mind, but also to be wary of anything that is a once in a lifetime chance to do something.  I wouldn't put this as a once in a lifetime chance, but it's hard to see legislators revisiting the school issue again for a while.

When I was on the Shawnee City Council, we were evaluating, once, a potential golf course community.  To do this, the developer required the city to condemn an owner's property.  We had to do this, he said, because it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to create such an economic benefit to the city.  He was guaranteed a PGA Seniors golf tournament if he built this, he said.

And as he stood at the podium, I swear that I began to see him turn red, with little horns emerging from his head.  Was that a cape?  A scepter?

It was an out-of-body public policy moment, and an impression on me to always be wary of "once-in-a-lifetime."  We didn't join the crusade and Shawnee is doing fine without it.

Still, I don't want to be THAT guy with the school issue.  This is just an ideal time to add the school in-service item.

I hope it happens.  I understand that people at the podium want ice water, too, though, so my primary concern with the bills as they are is that they take away the exemption of the junior colleges and water districts.

Having four elections in odd years solves nothing.

Interestingly, what stirred the amendment was an attempt to exempt entities that had their own charters, like Johnson County government.  "By vote of the people," it's often said, citizens of Johnson County wanted their commissioners non-partisan (and without veering into the weeds--really, we aren't in the weeds?--this amendment protects that.)

But "by vote of the people" is an interesting phrase because, in 1966, Johnson County "by vote of the people" authorized the use of voting machines.

As we went through our capital budget process--and a new post coming--I've reflected on that.  Using the same "by vote of the people," logic, I wonder if a paper-based next generation system would first have to be approved by voters.

This may be a once in a lifetime situation we will have to address soon.