Procrastinators were in high gear last week, scurrying to get their ballots secured for the proposed expansion of Kansas City’s streetcar line.
But meeting last Tuesday’s deadline was just step one. For the uninitiated, casting a vote for or against streetcar expansion is an onerous undertaking that requires planning, patience and plenty of spare time.
Would-be voters delivered applications to the Jackson County Circuit Court. And the fax machine was buzzing there, another option for the people who hadn’t snail-mailed early to make the deadline.
Sorting continues. But by late Friday, at least 4,000-plus had been verified as registered voters living within the geographic boundaries of the proposed Transportation Development District (TDD) for 3.75 miles of streetcar expansion. Those voters will be mailed ballots beginning June 20.
For a special election, interest appears high among the approximately 30,000 voters who live within the proposed district boundaries.
Three elections — two by mail and one at the polls — will be necessary before the popular line running from the River Market to Union Station can be extended south to the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
But if anyone thinks a ballot will appear in their mailbox without a formal request, sorry, that would be convenient. And simple. Little about this multi-phase process qualifies.
The first mail-in vote will approve or deny the creation of the TDD. Next, seven directors will be elected to a board at the polls, probably in the fall. Then, eligible voters must approve the funding, also via mail-in ballot, early next year.
Understanding it all, keeping track of deadlines, requires a flow chart. Which is never a good thing when public participation is not only called for, but essential.
State law governs the myriad steps.
Right now, affected voters need to request the ballot, which some found to be a difficult task as they also had to submit proof of their voter eligibility. That meant either copying a voter identification card or printing a document off the election board website.
Distributing a ballot to voters within the district would be easier but more expensive with postage costs. And that’s not an option without changing the law.
Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway released a report on the state’s transportation development districts in April. The audit found about 80 percent of the approximately 200 TDD’s are controlled by developers, raising conflicts of interest and accountability issues with public funds.
Among her other findings: The law doesn’t require defined project costs when a TDD is formed, and no safeguards ensure that the sales taxes end once the district obligations have been paid.
Galloway did not audit the TDD for the first portion of Kansas City’s streetcar line, and she emphasized that it has followed the original intent of the law as a method to develop public transportation projects. But the bad actors — mostly small micro-districts set up to benefit specific property owners — offer an opening for the Missouri legislature to revisit the TDD statute.
Needed changes could simplify the burdensome process before Kansas City voters are asked to approve future streetcar expansions.