www.mozilla.com Weather Central
Voices
Headlines

Most important election -10/26/2014, 4:02 PM

Enough is enough -10/26/2014, 4:02 PM

Is Roberts on final lap? -10/26/2014, 4:02 PM

Democrat turned Brownback supporter -10/26/2014, 4:02 PM

Editor Bradlee; For it All, 'Thank You' -10/26/2014, 4:02 PM

Davis for governor -10/26/2014, 4:02 PM

Roberts a changed man -10/26/2014, 4:02 PM

Time to stay the course -10/26/2014, 4:02 PM

Embarrassing economists -10/24/2014, 9:13 AM

Sherow for House -10/24/2014, 9:13 AM

It can't get crazier (wanna bet?) -10/24/2014, 9:04 AM

Digital distractions -10/23/2014, 10:01 AM

Orman for Senate -10/23/2014, 10:01 AM

Federal persecutors -10/23/2014, 10:00 AM

Kids do count -10/22/2014, 10:31 AM

Needing the past in the future? -10/22/2014, 10:31 AM

In praise of hunting -10/22/2014, 10:30 AM

What is a CID? Will it work for mall? -10/21/2014, 10:22 AM

Judging importance on the ballot -10/21/2014, 10:22 AM

Kansas Speaks -10/21/2014, 10:22 AM

Paying for schools -10/19/2014, 1:21 PM

Joining forces for Orman -10/19/2014, 1:21 PM

Research before voting -10/19/2014, 1:21 PM

Davis is moderate? -10/19/2014, 1:21 PM

The most important election in your lifetime -10/19/2014, 1:21 PM

Huelskamp stands out -10/19/2014, 1:21 PM

Kansas farm interests -10/19/2014, 1:21 PM

Keeping unfounded reports from 'going viral' -10/19/2014, 1:21 PM

The age of cynicism -10/18/2014, 9:02 AM

Preventable diseases -10/17/2014, 10:28 AM

Second term needed -10/17/2014, 10:28 AM

Kansans deserve better -10/17/2014, 10:28 AM

Officially killing Americans -10/17/2014, 10:27 AM

New era at FHSU -10/16/2014, 10:01 AM

Roberts is right choice -10/16/2014, 10:01 AM

Crumbling Constitution -10/16/2014, 9:52 AM

Redbelly's future -10/16/2014, 9:52 AM

Kansas deserves better -10/15/2014, 10:23 AM

Remember to vote on Nov. 4 -10/15/2014, 10:23 AM

You almost feel sorry for Sean Groubert -10/15/2014, 10:23 AM

Register to vote -10/14/2014, 10:14 AM

Living on that 70 percent -10/14/2014, 10:14 AM

New bullying problem for schools: parents -10/14/2014, 10:14 AM

Cheerios, marriage equality, the Supreme Court -10/13/2014, 9:49 AM

Wedded bliss -10/12/2014, 5:54 PM

Who is the real fraud? -10/12/2014, 5:08 PM

Teenagers 'make some noise' -10/12/2014, 5:08 PM

Not so private property -10/10/2014, 10:01 AM

Federal funding -10/10/2014, 10:01 AM

Teacher indoctrination -10/10/2014, 10:01 AM

Vote Republican -10/9/2014, 9:49 AM

Non-partisan politics -10/9/2014, 9:49 AM

Teen driver safety week Oct. 19 to 25 -10/9/2014, 9:04 AM

FHSU party -10/9/2014, 10:11 AM

Poverty in America -10/9/2014, 10:11 AM

Let the women serve -10/9/2014, 10:11 AM

Time for new direction -10/8/2014, 9:49 AM

Improving Kansas economically -10/8/2014, 9:35 AM

Water abusers -10/8/2014, 9:35 AM

Play safe on the farm -10/8/2014, 9:34 AM

Where the money comes from -10/7/2014, 10:24 AM

The president's security -10/7/2014, 10:24 AM

Marriage equality -10/7/2014, 10:24 AM

The sins of the father are visited -10/6/2014, 9:02 AM

Cannabis in America: The bottom line -10/6/2014, 9:20 AM

A reason to celebrate -10/6/2014, 9:20 AM

Gov. shields wealthy from paying for schools -10/5/2014, 2:07 PM

Passionate protest in defense of civil disorder -10/5/2014, 2:07 PM

October is time for baseball and, of course, film premieres -10/4/2014, 2:16 PM

Alley cleanup -10/3/2014, 10:01 AM

Will the West defend itself? -10/3/2014, 10:01 AM

Find another school -10/3/2014, 10:01 AM

It's better now -10/2/2014, 9:17 AM

The answer is to bomb Mexico? -10/2/2014, 9:17 AM

Falling revenue -10/2/2014, 9:17 AM

School facilities -10/1/2014, 9:27 AM

Look ahead, not back -10/1/2014, 9:27 AM

Secret Service needs to step up its game -10/1/2014, 9:27 AM

Roosevelts were true leaders -9/30/2014, 9:18 AM

Moral bankruptcy -9/30/2014, 9:18 AM

Expect some sort of change in Topeka -9/30/2014, 9:18 AM

'A tale of two countries' -9/29/2014, 9:59 AM

The last of the Willie Horton ads? -9/29/2014, 9:59 AM

Finding answers to the future of Kansas -9/28/2014, 2:20 PM

College: Where religious freedom goes to die -9/28/2014, 2:20 PM

Honoring Hammond -9/28/2014, 2:20 PM

Do statistical disparities mean injustice? -9/26/2014, 9:53 AM

World university rankings -9/26/2014, 9:52 AM

Kansas experiment -9/26/2014, 9:52 AM

Two anti-choice parties -9/25/2014, 10:03 AM

Not in the same old Kansas anymore -9/25/2014, 10:03 AM

Domestic violence -9/25/2014, 10:03 AM

Back to war we go -9/24/2014, 9:55 AM

Piling on the NFL -9/24/2014, 9:54 AM

Emma Watson looking for a few good men -9/24/2014, 9:54 AM

Renter runaround -9/23/2014, 7:32 PM

Enough is enough -9/23/2014, 9:02 AM

Life of politics in the state -9/23/2014, 9:02 AM

What is and is not child abuse -9/22/2014, 9:30 AM

Cannabis politics and research -9/22/2014, 9:30 AM

myTown Calendar

SPOTLIGHT
[var top_story_head]

Changes could improve April turnout

Published on -4/11/2011, 6:59 AM

Printer-friendly version
E-Mail This Story

Watch a basketball game, and you'll instantly be able to tell your team apart from their opponents.  The fan can tell easily who to cheer for, because teams give plenty of identification with colors, team names, and numbers on their uniforms. If every player wore the same color uniform without numbers, the game would be much harder to watch.  

In local politics, we don't let the teams identify themselves -- and maybe that's why interest is down.  

On April 5, like many Kansans, I went to the polls for my city commission and school board elections.

Well, maybe not many Kansans.  Turnout ranged from 20-plus percent in Ellis County to less than 10 percent for some Johnson County races. When the finals numbers are tallied, the state's overall turnout will likely be around Finney County's 17 percent.  

Incumbents were overwhelmingly popular, meaning little change emerged from the 2011 elections. Contrast those numbers with the 42 percent turnout last November as reported by the United States Election Project at George Mason University. Significant change was the by-product of that turnout, which is exactly what elections are supposed to provide.  

But it's hard to change when four-fifths of the voters choose to stay home.

Off-cycle elections (non-primary elections that occur in odd-numbered years) are an artifact of the Progressive Movement, an early 20th century effort to weaken what were then incredibly powerful political party organizations. Primaries, merit bureaucracy and nonpartisan local elections all are products of the Progressive Era. The problem we face today is that the reforms have largely hurt democracy rather than helped it.

When parties are too strong, as they were during the machine era that spawned the Progressive reaction, then it is best to weaken them. Now that parties are weak, those reforms continue to threaten the vital role parties play as linkage institutions. The separate time and non-partisan nature of these elections are a dual problem which needs attention.

There is no reason to hold local elections separately from the November elections in which we decide other races.  

Certainly, adding the extra races would extend the time one needed to vote, but an extra three to five races would not be much of a deterrent, and certainly not on the level of establishing a separate day to vote when less attention is paid to the races contested.  In fact, by placing the city and county races on the same ballot with higher-level races we may increase interest in all contests and reduce administration costs.  

Even more damaging than the April election date has been the non-partisan local election. Parties provide cues for information-seeking voters, as well as a group with the incentive to bring people out to the polls. As Brian Schaffner, Matthew Streb and Gerald Wright showed in a 2001 study of local and state elections, nonpartisan contests are the main source of low-turnout and low-involvement races in American politics. The authors found that incumbency takes the leading role in voters' minds when parties are not on the ballot, taking an already high incumbent return rate and pushing it closer to almost universal return to office.  Removing party from the ballot deprives voters of useful information while making their decisions.

Democracy is a wonderful thing when it is practiced with care. The Progressives believed that by putting more power in the hands of voters they would engage with politics on a deeper level and be true stewards of the government.  Instead, by undermining the strongest  tie the public has to their politics, the Progressives have encouraged us to not pay attention and stay home on election day.

The date of April elections and their nonpartisan nature have combined to do exactly the opposite of what the Progressives intended. Nobody watches basketball in August, and you don't root for teams when you can't recognize their uniforms. By electing on a different day and putting all the players in the same uniform, we've made local politics a very uninteresting game for the casual fan.

Perhaps it is time to consider consolidating elections in November, adding party labels, and getting peoples' rooting interests going again.

Chapman Rackaway is an associate professor of political science at Fort Hays State University.

digg delicious facebook stumbleupon google Newsvine
More News and Photos

Associated Press Videos

AP Breaking News