A bill now before the Kansas Senate that would juggle elections in the state may be well intentioned, but is misguided, Barton County Clerk Donna Zimmerman said.
“Consolidating elections would be disastrous,” said Zimmerman, who has joined with county clerks from around Kansas to prepare written testimony against the proposed legislation. “It’s just bad policy.”
She was referring to the 45-page Senate Bill 211 which would move primary and general elections. It would move all spring primaries to August and all April general elections to November.
In other words, in a year were there were spring primaries, all general ballots would be cast in August and November. In years where there was a general election in April, that voting would be combined with the general election in November.
The thinking behind the proposal, Zimmerman believes, was that one big election would increase voter turnout, since November elections draw more voters. Also, the combining of elections would cut costs.
However, Zimmerman said, neither would be the case.
The bill was introduced by Senate Committee on Ways and Means Monday, Feb. 18. On Tuesday, Feb. 19, it was referred to the Senate Committee on Ethics, Elections and Local Government of which Sen. Mitch Holmes, R-St. John, is the co-chairman.
There is also similar legislation working its way through the House.
The Senate bill “is based on a multitude of false assumptions of what elections require of voters, election officials, and optical scan voting machines used to count paper ballots,” she said. This would be bad for local candidates and issues that might get lost in the shuffle.
“Second, consolidating elections will severely impair and overwhelm our ability to conduct elections,” Zimmerman said. “The current election methodology is not broken and does not need to be fixed.”
Zimmerman believes Kansas may have the best election laws in all of the United States. “While there are some things which need to be tweaked, Kansas elections do not need to be drastically changed.”
The county clerks believe consolidating elections will cause a host of unintended and undesirable consequences:
• Multi-page and complicated ballots; many will skip races/questions with which they are unfamiliar.
• The causes of low voter turnout are not magically fixed by simply moving local elections.
• Longer ballots double or triple programming and ballot printing costs.
• Ballot complexity will necessitate more voting machines. There is no optical scan voting machine that will count a multi-page ballot as one ballot.
• Five-minute voter time limit in the voting booth; more time simply causes longer voter lines.
• Complexities create the need for more and better trained election workers.
• Recruiting and retaining election workers from a rapidly shrinking pool of volunteers.
• Two-year gap between elections works against recruiting, training and retention of workers.
• Stagnant election worker pay which is less than minimum wage. Statute sets the pay too low.
• Increased election worker training costs and significant increase to the time needed for training.
• Local candidates and issues will be unable to compete successfully to fund their campaigns.
• Local candidates and issues will lose their visibility to voters.
• Simultaneous candidate filings at both the state and local level create confusion.
• Increases the probability and necessity for special elections at greater cost to the taxpayer.
• Assumed savings of consolidating elections is illusory.
• Shifts costs to even years, but election complexity will actually increase costs.
• Increases the need for more polling places with fewer locations meeting Americans with Disabilities Act requirements or willing to participate; paying more for non-public locations which meet requirements.
Kansas county election officers pride themselves on running efficient elections, Zimmerman said. “I don’t want to see anything lessen the integrity of elections.”
Zimmerman made a presentation on the bill at Monday’s Barton County Commission meeting.
At first blush, Commissioner Jennifer Schartz said the bill looked like a good idea. But, she added, she hadn’t thought out all the ramifications.
In odd-number years, there are elections county-wide in Barton County. In even years, there are only select communities and localized races.