Danedri Thompson
[email protected]

Johnson County Election Officials mailed 6,570 ballots to Spring Hill School District voters last week.

And now the waiting game is on for school district staff as voters decide whether to approve a $39 million bond issue. If approved, the bonds would expand Prairie Creek Elementary School, build a new elementary near Spring Hill High School, address maintenance needs in the district like improving parking lots, and technology upgrades district-wide including wireless access in all buildings. District officials say the bond issue will not require a mill levy increase.

To be counted, mail-in ballots must be returned to the Johnson County Election Office no later than noon on Tuesday, June 7.

Election officials mailed ballots to registered voters on May 18, and by May 23, more than 1,400 ballots had been returned.

Brian Newby, Johnson County Election Commissioner, said he expects another 1,400-or-so ballots to trickle in by the June 7 deadline.

“Back in the day, you could almost be assured of a 50 percent turnout with a mail-in ballot,” Newby said. “Now it’s about a 40 percent turnout. For whatever reason, the turnout of mail ballots has dropped over the years.”

Mail elections have been popular with school districts over the past several years. Spring Hill School District patrons will vote this summer, and Gardner Edgerton officials anticipate hosting a mail-ballot election in early 2012.

Newby theorizes district’s opt for mail elections due to a perceived increase in turnout over typical polling-booth elections.

“But now, you can certainly have a much higher turnout at other times,” Newby said.

“Compared to spring 2011, of course, with the mail ballots you’re going to have a higher turnout. But compare it to November 2012, and (the mail election) is going to have half that turnout. I think it’s a preference by school district.”

Districts must pay for a special election whether by mail or otherwise. Mail-in ballots can be more expensive, because they include the cost for return postage.

“When we looked at a countywide special election in 2005, it was more expensive by almost 15 percent, but that was countywide. When it’s a small election, like this size, it’s probably a wash,” Newby said.

Christine Splichal, Spring Hill School District Director of Communications, said the choice of a mail election wasn’t based on cost or voter turnout. It was a matter of timeliness.

The district didn’t have the bond issue ready to go by the spring 2011 elections.

“There are so many official steps you have to go through before you can go to an election,” Splichal explained. “It just wasn’t ready to go. We chose to do a mail-in ballot to keep things moving.”

If voters approve the bond issue, Splichal said school officials will really get things rolling.

“There would be some things that patrons and families would see immediately – parking lot repairs, roof repairs. The technology portion would begin,” she said.

The Prairie Creek Expansion wouldn’t open until fall of 2012, and the new elementary school would welcome students in the fall of 2013.

“We’re hopeful that voters will take the time or have already learned about the bond and cast their vote,” Splichal said. “It’s an important issue for not only the families but taxpayers in general. I hope that there is not apathy. But that holds true for any election.”

All registered voters in the Spring Hill School District should’ve received their ballots by now.

Those who haven’t are asked to call the Johnson County Election Office at (913)782-3441 as soon as possible.

Newby said even Miami County voters are asked to call the Johnson County office, as they’re handling the mail election on both sides of the county line.
Officially, voters have until June 3 to request a replacement ballot, but Newby said there’s a gray area in the law. If a voter discovers they haven’t received a ballot on June 4, they should still call the election office.

“We would issue a provisional (ballot) and still try to count it,” Newby said.