A state legislator from Neosho has proposed a bill that would permanently move elections on some local issues from April to November in Missouri.
Rep. Ben Baker, R-Neosho, has filed House Bill 920, which calls for local issues to be voted on at general election dates in November instead of the current first Tuesdays in April and August.
Baker believes it would save money and increase voter participation in local races and issues to vote in November.
The proposal has caught the attention of local officials as well as state organizations. The Joplin City Council, for instance, has slated discussion on the question at its meeting at 6 p.m. Monday.
“There are a couple of reasons why we are making this proposal,” Baker said. “One is that, historically, turnout for April elections is dismal at best. Usually under 10% of the voters or even 2%, 3% or 5% turn out for issues that affect a lot of people.”
Eleven other states have mandated that the municipal elections take place in tandem with November general elections, which Baker said has increased turnout.
But after a recent committee hearing on the proposed measure, Baker said he has agreed to amend the bill so local races for things like city council and school boards would not change election dates.
He said he has agreed to change the bill to allow candidate races to be decided in April but require votes on tax and bond issues to take place in November.
He said that would mean more people would vote on tax issues.
But opponents say that is not the case.
“We have serious concerns,” said Richard Sheets, interim director of the Missouri Municipal League, which represents member cities on state issues.
“Local governments have serious concerns about eliminating the April election,” Sheets said. “First of all, there is a reason why the Legislature separated the municipal elections? Because most are nonpartisan. They are separated because the November election gets so crowded the local issues would get sidelined. Individuals are more informed in April when there are not a lot of issues on the ballot.”
With so many candidates and issues in November, “voters could get ballot fatigue, and that could jeopardize local elections,” he said. “If someone only wants to vote the president, where will the local elections be? On the bottom of the ballot.”
Others who testified against the bill were representatives of Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, the city of Springfield, and the Missouri Association Of School Administrators.
Baker said the amendments he will offer would address the issue of long ballots by allowing cities and school districts to pose issues in odd-number years rather than the even-numbered years when state and national races are conducted.
While Baker believes it would increase voter turnout for local issues, Sheets said that local voters know what issues they’re interested in voting on, and that won’t change.
“In April, the voters that come out, they are concerned about that local issue,” Sheets said. “They are either very supportive or very opposed. I think you get a truer picture in April, and we would lose that.”