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Wichita had slight uptick in voter turnout with mayor’s race

August 12, 2019

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A law aimed at increasing voter turnout by moving local elections from the spring to the fall got its first real test in Tuesday’s election for Wichita mayor.

The Wichita Eagle reports that turnout in this year’s mayoral primary in Wichita, the state’s largest city, was 10%. That is only a slight uptick from the 9.8% in the 2015 mayoral primary, the last spring election.

Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman said things had seemed to be going better and she was surprised when the turnout ended up being almost exactly the same as four years ago.

“The first run doesn’t look too good,” said Sen. Dan Kerschen, R-Garden Plain. “This was a good sample, a good election with a lot of good people in it. To not have the turnout, unfortunately, it’s the same old thing.”

“Pathetic,” is the word former state Rep. Mark Kahrs used to sum up the turnout.

He was chairman of the House Elections Committee and said the Legislature didn’t go far enough when it moved the city and school board elections in 2015. The bill he introduced would have consolidated the municipal elections with the state and national elections held in even-numbered years.

“As this last election shows, just changing it on the time of the year doesn’t make a big difference if we don’t combine it with the other elections.”

The two winners to emerge from the Wichita mayoral primary and move on to the Nov. 5 general election — incumbent Mayor Jeff Longwell and state Rep. Brandon Whipple — each got the votes of about 3% of the eligible electorate, he said.

Wichita was one of a host of cities and school districts in Kansas that opposed moving nonpartisan local elections to even-numbered years. It wanted for a separation between local and state elections, Longwell said.

It’s too early to judge the new election calendar after only one mayor citywide race, Longwell said, adding that what’s on the ballot matters more than when the election is held.

Turnout for primary elections in some other Kansas counties also were low this year, but other counties in the state did not have a mayoral election in a major metropolitan city like Wichita this year.

Shawnee County, for example, didn’t hold a primary at all this August because not enough candidates filed in any city council or school board races to require one.

In Johnson County, the state’s most populous county, turnout for this year’s primary was 8.28% even though it had a full county primary, meaning every single voter in the county had some race to vote on. That occurred because the Johnson County Community College had 11 candidates file for three positions. The suburban Kansas City, Kansas, community of Shawnee also had a mayoral race this election. The voter turnout in Johnson County, however, was down from even the 9.92% in the comparable 2017 election.

“I think there are several factors that affect things like turnout — what’s on the ballot, the climate, interest by the public, all of those factors,” said Johnson County Election Commissioner Ronnie Metzker.

A voter turnout of around 8% is “very normal” for a municipal election in Johnson County, he said.

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Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, http://www.kansas.com

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