The Kansas Legislature is considering bills that would allow partisan politics in local elections and change when they are held.
One bill before the Kansas Senate would allow local elections to be partisan and held in even-numbered years, while another would have them in odd-numbered years. The House bill calls for the local elections to remain non-partisan and be held in odd-numbered years, The Lawrence Journal-World reported (http://bit.ly/16wNtr2 ).
Local elections are currently held in the spring of odd-numbered years.
Brad Bryant, deputy assistant secretary of state, said in testimony before the House elections committee that moving the elections to November, when the national general vote is held, would increase voter turnout.
"It's consistent. It's predictable," Bryant said. "The voters would know what to expect. There would be no confusion about if there is election or when it is."
But in response to a question from Rep. John Alcala, D-Topeka, Bryant acknowledged he had no data to prove moving the elections would increase turnout.
In a hearing Tuesday before the Senate elections committee, Rep. Steve Huebert, R-Wichita, said moving the elections would save state and local governments money because they would not have to open polling places as often.
However, Mike Taylor, director of public relations for the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., said he opposed allowing local elections to become partisan contests.
"City issues tend not to be partisan," Taylor said. "They really don't fit in with Republican and Democrat talking points. They're more about potholes or whether we should build a community center; those are the types of issues that are talked about in those races."
Taylor and other opponents also said local elections would not get the attention they deserve if they were held at the same time as the general election.
Kelly Arnold, chairwoman of the Kansas Republican Party, said in written testimony that allowing partisan elections would increase turnout because political parties encourage participation.
"Partisan designations help voters elect the person who aligns with their philosophy," Arnold wrote. "Municipal elections are so low-key most voters don't vote because they know nothing of the candidates."
Senate minority leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said on Tuesday that the right wing of the Republican Party wants local elections to be partisan so it can dominate all of the political scene in Kansas.
"Whatever arguments they raise for increased turnout and reducing cost is just a big smoke screen to hide the fact that they are out to take over and have as much control over state and local government as they can possibly get," Hensley said.