Turnout for SMSD board race up 114 percent from 2015 — but total local participation still woefully low

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The Shawnee Mission School Board elections that will see three new members seated in January appear to have massively energized the district’s voting base.

Participation in the race for the at-large seat on this year’s ballot, which was won by Heather Ousley, was up 114 percent from two years ago. This year, 31,427 patrons cast votes in the at-large race, which was open to all registered voters who live within the district’s boundaries. In 2015, just 14,654 voters cast ballots for an at-large spot (board member Brad Stratton won that election, defeating Elizabeth Rulo with 66 percent of the vote). In 2013, at-large incumbent Cindy Neighbor held on to her seat after a challenge from Mark Read in a race that saw 14,152 ballots cast.

This was the first year that the school board elections were held in the fall following the Kansas legislature’s move in 2015 to mandate that municipal and local elections be shifted from the spring.

Increased turnout was not limited to Shawnee Mission, though — overall participation in local elections increased 67 percent from two years ago, with 10.1 percent of registered Johnson County voters casting a ballot in 2015 and 16.72 percent casting a ballot this year. In 2013, just 7.98 percent of registered voters participated in the municipal election cycle.

Still, the numbers pale in comparison to participation in state and federal level. In last fall’s presidential election, 72.83 percent of registered Johnson County voters cast a ballot. In the 2014 fall election cycle that saw competitive races for the governorship between Sam Brownback and Paul Davis, 51 percent of registered Johnson County residents cast a ballot.