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Kansas Political Parties Say Move to Fall Local Elections Offers Benefits

Shawnee County Election Commissioner Andrew Howell at the meeting where local officials certified the election results. (Photo by Stephen Koranda)

The 2017 Kansas election is in the books, as counties finished most of the work finalizing their results Thursday.

This was the first election since local races were moved to the fall, and voter turnout was up in many areas. Shawnee County saw turnout of around 19 percent, a jump of about 5 percentage points compared to recent local elections.  

Election Commissioner Andrew Howell said when local elections occurred in the spring, they came soon after federal voting, which may have led to voter fatigue and lower turnout.

“Some of us are worn out with the ads, with the emotional event of a presidential election,” Howell said. “I do think giving some time helps.”

Johnson, Douglas and Wyandotte counties also reported higher voter turnout. Sedgwick County turnout was similar to the last local election but saw jumps in areas with contested races.

While the local elections are nonpartisan, the state political parties still play a part in the elections with recruitment and fundraising.

John Gibson, chairman of the Kansas Democratic Party, said the move made reaching out to voters easier because people are used to casting ballots in the fall.

“Back when these were spring elections, people would be surprised and shocked that there was an election happening,” Gibson said.

The new election cycle also benefited candidates. Kansas Republican Party Chairman Kelly Arnold said the old schedule, where local elections were right on the heels of a federal election, compressed the campaign into only a couple months. That made fundraising and outreach more difficult.

Arnold called moving the elections to the fall a “great benefit.”

“It gave the party time to recruit candidates. It gave our candidates time to campaign and get their message out,” Arnold said.

He said there are also more practical benefits, like better weather for campaigning.

“Have you ever tried to put a yard sign in the ground in February? It’s very difficult,” Arnold said.

Gibson said the change also offers another benefit to the parties, which have organizational meetings early in the year. The move gave new party leaders more time to prepare before the election. He was selected for the top job in the Democratic Party in late February.

“Having the fall election gave us time, at a state party level, to be thinking about them in ways that were not really possible for the Kansas Democratic Party in the past,” Gibson said. 

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