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Archive for Monday, November 2, 1992

HIGHS AND LOWS OF VOTER TURNOUT

November 2, 1992

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On the map, the two polling places are about 12 blocks from each other Kansas University's Allen Fieldhouse, at Sunnyside Avenue and Naismith Drive, and the Southside Church of Christ, 23rd and Missouri.

But in terms of voting in the last few fall elections, they're miles apart.

Southside Church of Christ, the polling place for the 7th Precinct of the 3rd Ward (known as 7-3), has traditionally had the highest percentage voter turnout in Lawrence.

In the last five fall elections, 7-3 has led or tied other city precincts for high turnout with 75 percent in 1990, 82 percent in 1988 (tie), 71 percent in 1986, 84 percent in 1984 and 70 percent in 1982.

At the other end of the voting spectrum, Allen Fieldhouse, the polling place for the 4th Precinct of the 2nd Ward, or 4-2, has had the city's lowest turnout in four of the last five fall elections.

What explains the low turnout in the 4-2? In a word, students. The precinct takes in an area that's mostly Kansas University student housing, and those students aren't known for their interest in local elections.

DEMOGRAPHIC data derived from the 1990 U.S. census show that residents in the Allen Fieldhouse precinct don't have roots in Lawrence 99.9 percent of the population in the area has lived in the area less than five years, with the average length of residence 1.1 years.

Douglas County Clerk Patty Jaimes said the turnout is so low at Allen Fieldhouse that it isn't even used every election.

"The only time I open up Allen Fieldhouse is in general elections on even-numbered years," Jaimes said. "We didn't use it in the primary because school wasn't started back up."

For the city and school board elections next spring, people who would vote at the fieldhouse in a general election will instead vote at Schwegler School.

The precinct boundaries are 19th Street on the south, Naismith Drive on the east, 15th Street on the North and Iowa Street on the west. In that roughly square area are six student residence halls; Stauffer Place, KU's married student housing; and Jayhawker Towers, KU student apartments.

According to census figures supplied by demographic authorities at World Geo-Solutions, a division of the World Co., the median age in the 4-2, 20.7 years, is one of the lowest in Lawrence. More than half the residents are between the ages of 18 and 24.

Although turnout traditionally has been low in the precinct, some residents think this could be the year for change.

PAMELA A. Clark and her husband, Paul S. Clark, who live at Stauffer Place, are the GOP precinct committeeman and committeewoman for the 4-2. Pamela Clark said she thinks the turnout will be up Tuesday.

"I think that it will be a little bit more because there is a higher rate of registration in that area and in the whole campus," she said.

John Schwartz, co-director of KU's chapter of Associated Students of Kansas, said he thinks more people in the precinct will vote this year because of his organization's campus voter registration drive, which ran from Sept. 11 through Oct. 14.

"We registered 2,604 people, and almost 2,600 of those were students," Schwartz said. "And I would probably say about 400 to 500 of those are from the area that would vote at Allen Fieldhouse. I think that's a big increase in the number of people who vote in that area."

In the 1990 fall election, 228 of the 1,188 registered voters in the 4-2 actually cast ballots. That translated to a turnout of 19 percent. In the 1988 presidential election, 58.3 percent of the precinct voters went to the polls.

"WHAT I would hope for, personally, is if we could get it up to 75 percent," Schwartz said. "I think that would be possible."

According to the Douglas County clerk's office, 381 Democrats, 280 Republicans, 24 Libertarians and 789 unaffiliated voters are registered in the precinct.

It would take 1,106 of the precinct's 1,474 registered voters to cast ballots to hit the 75 percent mark.

A few blocks away, where 7-3 votes at Southside Church of Christ, 1,065 voters are registered: 445 Republicans, 326 Democrats, 290 unaffiliated voters and four Libertarians.

Betty Lane, who has been supervising judge in the 7-3 in the last three general elections, predicted another strong turnout there 90 percent.

"We'll see what happens," Mrs. Lane said.

She guessed the past turnouts were high at 7-3 because people in that precinct "are just election conscious."

"The same ones come basically all the time," she said.

She said residents of the precinct have established roots in the community and the turnover rate isn't very high.

THE STABILITY of the area is in contrast to the high turnover in the Allen Fieldhouse precinct. Demographic data show that two-thirds to three-fourths of the residents in the 7-3 haved lived in their house for 10 years or more. More than a fourth of population in the precinct is over the age of 35.

Barbara Wasson, 2549 Jasu, is 7-3's GOP precinct committeewomman, and her husband, Douglas Wasson, is the GOP precinct committeeman.

There are no Democratic precinct-level officials for the 7-3.

Mrs. Wasson, who was just elected to her precinct post in August, said she and her husband have lived in the neighborhood for 12 years.

"A lot of us are in our 40s and 50s and have teen-age children," she said. "We have lots of people who work in the university. . . . The people I know here are well-educated and well-informed. I'm surprised that we have had the highest turnouts. That's very encouraging to me."

Wasson said she expects the turnout to be strong again on Tuesday.

"I'm not surprised," Douglas Wasson said. "I think it's a pretty stable neighborhood. There aren't many transients here or students. There are a lot of homeowners and because of that there are more people interested in local issues, such as taxes and so forth. They have an investment in the community because they've been here for awhile, so they pay more attention to the election than, say, students."

WASSON predicted the turnout at 7-3 will be between 85 percent and 90 percent on Tuesday because of the presidential race and because there is a lot of interest in the Kansas House 45th District race, which features Republican Bob Skahan, Democrat Forrest Swall, Libertarian Michael Davidson and write-in candidate Martha Parker.

The difference in the voting patterns of the two precincts aren't surprising to Fred Sherman, planning coordinator with World Geo-Solutions.

``Essentially the students in the area just don't have a sense of community,'' he said. "They're in there for a year at most, whereas the other area is an established neighborhood where people have lived for 10 to 15 years.''

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