MANHATTAN, Kan. — As the calendar turns to October and a political circus fully envelops D.C., it’s important to remember there’s an election on the horizon that’s not the 2020 presidential referendum.
In November Kansans will head to the polls and cast ballots for school board members and city councilors. Voters also will have a say on borrowing money for new schools, increasing sales tax and other measures.
In short, November’s election is more consequential for the day-to-day lives of most Kansans than anything that happens in 2020. Not only are the stakes higher for your everyday living, your vote will likely have an outsized impact on the election.
For example, in my home county 65 percent of eligible voters cast 22,198 ballots in the 2016 general election. Fewer than 6,000 voters turned out for 2015’s local races. That increased slightly in 2017 to just over 8,000, which is still less than a quarter of registered voters. The smaller the turnout, the more heft your individual vote will carry.
Now’s the time to get registered and get educated. U.S. citizens living in Kansas who will turn 18 before Election Day must submit their registration applications to their county election officer by Oct. 15 to be eligible for the Nov. 5 election.
The Kansas Secretary of State’s website (www.sos.ks.gov/elections) provides a trove of information about how and where to register; lists of candidates and deadlines for in-person advance voting, Oct. 16-Nov. 4; applying for and returning advance ballots via mail by Oct. 29; and when mail ballots must be postmarked, Nov. 5, and received by the county election office, no later than three days after the election.
As for getting to know the candidates, I’ve always thought it’s much easier to do in local elections than at the state and federal level. There’s no party politics to sort through since all school boards and most municipal elections are nonpartisan. The candidates also tend to be less political and more service minded, especially considering most positions offer nothing or next to it in the way of compensation.
Plus, especially in small towns, you already know the candidates. You go to church together, sit next to each other at Friday night ball games and, possibly, went to school together. For those election seekers you may not be as familiar with, there are plenty of resources. Local newspapers and radio stations will provide standard coverage of candidates, civic groups will hold forums and the candidates often have websites or social media pages detailing their backgrounds and the issues important for them.
While all of those methods will certainly help inform your vote, the very best practice is to question candidates directly. Whether you are worried about taxes, spending, public safety or have some other concern, candidates’ answers are often illuminating of how they’ll govern. Be wary of anyone who refuses or deflects from direct, relevant inquiries. If they don’t provide straightforward answers when seeking your vote, how can you trust they’ll be responsive to your inquiries if they’re elected?
I know why local elections are less popular than state and federal contests. There’s less partisanship and rancor. It often seems like there’s less on the line, even though that couldn’t be further from the truth. No matter your politics, the system works best with an engaged and educated electorate.
I’ll be at the ballot box this November. I hope to see you there, too.
“Insight” is a weekly column published by Kansas Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization whose mission is to strengthen agriculture and the lives of Kansans through advocacy, education and service.
— Greg Doering, Kansas Farm Bureau
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