Led by a wave of newly registered voters, 85.5 percent of Douglas County residents came to the polls Tuesday in what appeared to be a record turnout.
County Clerk Patty Jaimes said this morning that the unofficial count showed 42,445 of the county's 49,628 registered voters cast ballots.
"I think partly it's because of an increase in voter registration," Jaimes said. "It's also a combination of the interests of the community."
For example, the usual partisan political races drew interest in presidential, congressional, legislative and courthouse positions.
"And there was a group interested in voting on the liquor-by-the-drink question," she said. "And there was a lot of interest on the school bond issue, not only here in Lawrence, but in Eudora."
JAIMES SAID the large number of people who registered to vote for Ross Perot in the summer also contributed to the large turnout. And the Kids Voting program conducted in local schools helped bring many parents to the polls, she said.
Voting was heavy throughout the city during Election Day, with lines reported in many of the city's precincts, she said.
"I heard someone reported that they had to wait in line for at least an hour," Jaimes said.
There were no problems reported at polling places, she said. However, several precincts called her office during the day for more pencils, she said.
Jaimes said one voter called to say he was upset that poll workers at the polling place at the Mustard Seed Christian Fellowship Church didn't inform him he was supposed to return his marked ballot to them inside the plastic sleeve.
"WE TRAIN the poll workers to instruct the voters, and we called the poll workers there to remind them," Jaimes said. "Part of the problem was because the voters there were bringing them out not in the sleeve because they were in a hurry to go on."
Jaimes said she was unsure of how the large number of unaffiliated voters affected the election. For the first time there were more unaffiliated voters in the county than Republicans or Democrats, she said. There were 17,336 unaffiliated, 17,307 Republicans, 14,604 Democrats and 381 Libertarians.
Some of the unaffiliated voters registered to vote for Perot, but many others decided not to declare a party because they realized they didn't need to, she said.
Kansas University students probably helped put several local Democratic candidates into office, said Louise Silber, who chairs the county's Democratic Party.
SILBER SAID she was "thrilled about the turnout " and impressed by the number of KU students who came to the polls.
"I do know that about 1,000 people showed at Allen Fieldhouse and they were virtually all students," she said. "And in the Oread Neighborhood, which votes at South Park Recreation Center, there were almost 1,200 voters there. And there are a lot of students in that precinct also."
Silber said close to 1,000 voters registered at the local Democratic Party headquarters at 10th and Massachusetts during September and October.
Kim Wells, a rural Lawrence man who is chairman of the Kansas Republican Party, said he had not yet had time to analyze the race, but he agreed that the large number of students voting probably helped Democrats.
"They did a good job of registering a lot of Democrats, and some of the independents were probably more Democratic," he said. "But Douglas County is an aberration in the state. Overall, the Republicans did well in the state legislative races and even beat the speaker of the House."
WELLS SAID some unaffiliated voters may have voted for Bill Clinton for president and also voted for other Democratic candidates, but he didn't think there was a strong "coattail" effect.
Some of the people gathered at the courthouse Tuesday night were commenting that the county should buy more ballot-counting machines to report the results more quickly.
"I think that's amazing," Jaimes said. "We used to be up here until 5 o'clock in the morning, and now they want it out faster. I'd love to have it out faster too. But I don't think I'm ready to go with three machines yet."
Jaimes said results from the first of the county's 51 precincts arrived at the courthouse about 7:30 p.m. The last results came in around 10:15 p.m., she said. The night's final vote tally was completed just before 11 p.m.
However, a few ballots around 30 were to be hand-counted today because they did not run properly through the counting machines, Jaimes said.
ELECTION workers also were counting write-in ballots, especially those in the Kansas House 45th District race, where Martha Parker, a rural Clinton woman, was running a write-in campaign.
The vote will be canvassed at 9 a.m. Friday at the county commission chambers. Final tallies will be made at that time, Jaimes said.
Chris Miller, the county's Republican chairman, said part of the reason local Republicans lost several close races was because many unaffiliated voters cast ballots for Bill Clinton then followed through with other Democratic candidates.
"I definitely think the results of the national races affected a lot of our local races," Miller said. "There were a couple of races where I would have anticipated a wider margin of victory for us than we got. And then there were several races where we lost where I think we would have won had that not happened."
"It was obvious that many of the unaffiliated voters were voting Democratic," he said. "We were hoping they would maintain an open mind with regard to the local candidates."