Election commissioner points to jump in primary participation as evidence of successful shift to fall cycle for local races

Jay Senter - August 9, 2017 11:43 am
Johnson County Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker at Monday's canvass board meeting.
Johnson County Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker at Monday’s canvass board meeting.

Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker said last week’s primary elections posed a special challenge for his office as it worked to ensure that the institutions that had races on the ballot met new deadlines required by the shifted schedule mandate by the legislature.

Voters, however, didn’t seem to have any trouble adjusting.

A state law signed by Gov. Sam Brownback in 2015 required all cities and school districts to move spring election cycles — typically with a March primary and an April general — to a fall schedule, with August primaries and November generals. Governing bodies throughout Johnson County wrestled with how to adjust the terms of sitting officials to sync up with the new election calendar, and also had issues realigning their pre-election routines.

“It did cause some consternations and uncertainties with many people,” Metsker told the board of canvassers on Monday. “In particular, we had special challenges with the school boards and administrations, and with the city clerks, city managers, and city councils who had a difficult time getting their arms around the change of the schedule and the timing, and sequencing and meeting deadlines.”

Those hiccups didn’t seem to affect voters, though. Metsker said that reviewing primary elections since 1997 in which more than 200,000 voters were eligible to cast ballots, Tuesday’s primary saw a statistically significant jump in turnout.

Those previous elections saw voter turnout between 4.9 and 6.1 percent. Turnout in Tuesday’s election was 9.92 percent, with 27,167 ballots cast.

“So one thing became clear to me,” Metsker said. “The voters did not have near the confusion in making the transition to this August date as did the cities and school boards.”

The at-large Shawnee Mission board of education race saw the greatest primary participation, with 18,070 ballots cast.

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