The proposal to change municipal election dates to coincide with the larger general election dates is a bad idea that should be rejected in the General Assembly or, if passed, vetoed by the governor.
House Bill 920, introduced by state Rep. Ben Baker, R-Neosho, would have forced all local elections to the November general election rather than the first Tuesday in April, the commonly used date for voters to choose city and school candidates and decide local issues.
Though combining elections would save money, there are other concerns that outweigh any potential benefit.
Joplin’s municipal elections are intentionally nonpartisan and should remain so. Moving the dates for local issues to November brings a risk that the sort of hyperpartisanship we see nationally could infect local elections. And if you think that couldn’t happen here, you’re mistaken. We have already seen it happening with local decisions regarding health and public safety over the past year.
Baker told the Globe recently that after opposition surfaced to the initial version of the bill, he agreed to amendments that would allow local candidate races to continue to be decided in April but move tax and bond issues to November. That isn’t enough to assuage our concerns.
Local finance decisions should be decided on their merits based on community needs and resources, not colored by national passions such as the broad anti-tax fervor that opposes any revenue measure.
Though April turnout is regrettably low, those who do turn out have studied the questions and the candidates. Local issues could easily be swamped by the flood of noise surrounding candidates and numerous broader questions that attend national elections in November. Most local issues require voters to seek and assess local information that isn’t pushed out by broad political interests that flood the media and dominate public conversation during national elections.
“I want to be able to discuss Joplin issues in April without having to compete against state or national issues,” Joplin City Council member Anthony Monteleone recently said. “My concern is we should consider taking action on this bill one way or another, either through our lobbyist to give him direction to speak into it, or pass a resolution so our comments could be read into it on the Senate side.”
The Joplin council agreed 9-0 to have city staff draft a resolution of opposition and, once the resolution is approved, submit the formal statement to lawmakers through the city’s lobbyist.
The bill is headed for state Senate action. We urge Sen. Bill White and other state senators to vote against the ill-conceived measure.