Following is testimony I will deliver to the Senate Standing Committee on Ethics, Elections and Local Government as a proponent of SB 211: Elections; municipalities; primary and general elections; date change; partisan.
Thank you for allowing me to present testimony in favor of SB 211, which would move city and school board elections from the spring of odd-numbered years to the fall of even-numbered years to coincide with state and national elections.
I’ve gathered statistics for elections in Sedgwick County, and these numbers show that voter turnout in spring elections is much lower than in fall elections. (For these statistics I count the August primary as part of the fall election cycle.) Since 2000, turnout for fall elections, both primary and general, has been 44 percent. Over the same period, spring elections turnout has been 18 percent.
Remarkably, a special Wichita citywide election in February 2012 with just one question on the ballot had voter turnout of 13.7 percent. One year earlier, in April 2011, the spring general election had four of six city council districts contested and a citywide mayoral election. Turnout was 12.8 percent, less than for a single-question election.
The problem of low voter participation in off-cycle elections is not limited to Sedgwick County or Kansas. In her paper “Election Timing and the Electoral Influence of Interest Groups,” Sarah F. Anzia writes “A well developed literature has shown that the timing of elections matters a great deal for voter turnout. … When cities and school districts hold elections at times other than state and national elections, voter turnout is far lower than when those elections are held at the same time as presidential or gubernatorial elections.”
In the same paper, Anzia explains that when voter participation is low, it opens the door for special interest groups to dominate the election: “When an election is separated from other elections that attract higher turnout, many eligible voters abstain, but interest group members that have a large stake in the election outcome turn out at high rates regardless of the increase in the cost of voting. Moreover, interest groups’ efforts to strategically mobilize supportive voters have a greater impact on election outcomes when overall turnout is low. Consequently, the electoral influence of interest groups is greater in off-cycle elections than in on-cycle elections. As a result, the policy made by officials elected in off-cycle elections should be more favorable to dominant interest groups than policy made by officials elected in on-cycle elections.” (Election Timing and the Electoral Influence of Interest Groups, Sarah F. Anzia, Stanford University, Journal of Politics, April 2011, Vol. 73 Issue 2, p 412-427, version online here.)
I urge this committee to support moving the spring elections to be held in conjunction with the fall state and national elections. This will help reduce the electoral power and influence of special interest groups.
I agree! I think it would save money too, to have them then.
Democrats “talk” about the need for more citizens involvement; transparency in government; voting rights, etc., but it is just “much to do about nothing”. The facts are that low voter turnout do empower the special interests. In addition, the farm club for Democrat politics in Kansas is local government. The Democrat party in Kansas and the media will oppose the idea of changing those elections to coincide with the regular election cycles because citizen turnout will not benefit their agenda.
School Board will resist the change because it will reduce the voter block of teachers and administrators and the power of the teachers union. They all vote in a block and only former union members or former teachers get elected to the school board. Consequently everyone suffers because they will never change and admit they are part of the problem.
I like being part of a special interest group. Such as prolife, promarriage, prosecond amendment. Special interest doesn’t always mean a liberal group.
The basis of the “turnout” figure should be specified. This should not be based on percentage of people registered to vote. That is highly misleading. When we say that turnout for voting for president, for example, was 52 percent, it means 52 percent of all the people 18-years-old and not just a percentage of those who are registered. It would be useful to specify which one is used.