Elector or voter?

The covenant between those who cast ballots and those who lead government is the centerpiece of American democracy -- whether those officials are deciding upon world affairs or bus routes.

And so, Ellis County voters likely were surprised to find out their voice might be silenced by a procedural error. Josh Waddell, who finished second in a race for three Hays USD 489 Board of Education seats last week, was not a registered voter in Ellis County.

That much we know.

We also know Ellis County Clerk Donna Maskus has made the decision that lack of a voter registration card should have made Waddell ineligible to be on the ballot.

Seems reasonable, but what are the facts?

Waddell has told his side of the story -- a drama involving DMV intrigue, mysterious messages, a fortuitous trip to the courthouse that led him to discover -- gasp -- he was not registered in Ellis County.

Waddell also was not registered for the fall general election, noting he was out of town during polling. We would like to remind readers of the option of advance voting for those on the road on that most crucial of days.

But let's slow down. While the school board ponders what to do with muddled election results, a question has yet to be answered: Is Waddell really ineligible?

Statute makes it clear one must be an "elector" to run for office. But does one need to be registered to vote to be an elector?

The Kansas Secretary of State's office, charged with overseeing elections in the state, refused to go that far.

Spokeswoman Kay Curtis, after consulting with her office's election expert, cited the Kansas Constitution, Article 5, Section 1: "A qualified elector is a 'citizen of the United States who has attained the age of 18 years and who resides in the voting area in which he or she seeks to vote.' "

Which would make the case of Adam Baker, the British expat who won a city council seat in Lucas, an open-and-shut case. Not a citizen, not an elector, not eligible. To use a colloquialism from Baker's native land, easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy.

But state law makes no obvious link between registered voter and elector. The Kansas Association of School Boards has a policy guideline stating the requirement, but the advocacy group is a nonprofit agency -- not a government entity.

We have yet to see any local requirement for a candidate to be a registered voter, but we would be surprised if such an internal policy would override the highest law in the state. In fact, we have yet to see any statutory or regulatory documentation anywhere that makes the express connection between "elector" and "registered voter."

And so the question remains: Are the April 2 election results indeed invalid in relation to Waddell's election?

That is for the school board and county clerk, possibly with the assistance of the secretary of state's office, to determine.

Regardless, there are lessons to be learned.

It is troubling someone chosen to run our local government is not involved at its most basic level -- voting.

It is also incumbent upon candidates to know what they are getting into. USD 489's gargantuan budget is much more complicated than the process to run for the board.

Waddell thrust himself in the spotlight with his candidacy, but it is important we also give him his share of the limelight.

In his short time in Ellis County, this young man has become deeply involved with the school district, serving on the facility needs committee that will help fashion the future of USD 489 buildings. That commitment to public service is to be commended.

And, in an election where four of every five voters couldn't take five minutes from their day to cast a ballot, Waddell's willingness to serve stands out even more.

But facts matter. To help ensure all involved take the proper course of action, we ask for clarification of Waddell's electoral status and the applicable statutes. We look forward to hearing clear and decisive explanations -- because we haven't yet.

With all the issues facing public education, Hays doesn't need a school board member with an asterisk behind his name.

Editorial by Ron Fields

rfields@dailynews.net