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Archive for Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Get-out-the-vote campaigns spur widespread early balloting

October 30, 2002

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The number of voters asking for advance ballots is up. Way up.

"As of this morning, we've sent out 4,590 advance ballots," Douglas County Clerk Patty Jaimes said Tuesday. "That's probably twice the number we sent out four years ago  that's the last time the gubernatorial candidates were on the ballot."

In Johnson County, election commissioner Connie Schmidt said her office issued 35,866 advance general-election ballots in 1998. So far this year, the number stood at 51,481.

"Of those, we've already gotten back 23,502," Schmidt said.

That's 2,256 more than all the advance votes cast in that county during the August primary.

Wyandotte County election officers noticed a similar trend.

"We sent out 3,659 advance ballots in August," said Beverly Bushnell, assistant election commissioner. "For the general, we've sent out closer to 10,000. There's been a steady stream of people coming in."

In Kansas, advance ballots may be cast by mail within 20 days of an election, or in person within seven days.

Bushnell, Schmidt and Jaimes attributed the increase to effective get-out-the-vote campaigns waged by the state's Democratic and Republican parties.

"They've been very involved," Jaimes said.

Kari Austin, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, said his office made sure letters were sent to every registered Republican in the 3rd Congressional District, encouraging them to apply for advance ballots. Many of those letters, he said, were followed with a tape-recorded message from President Bush, reminding voters to fill out the request form and drop it in the mail.

"Both parties are doing it," Austin said. "As long as it gets more people to participate in the process, it's a good thing."

At the Kansas Secretary of State's Office, elections director Brad Bryant said advance-voter numbers appeared to be up across the state.

"We've not taken an official survey  we'll do that later in the week  but everyone I've talked to says the numbers are up," Bryant said.

The Secretary of State's Office on Friday will release its projection of voter turnout.

"I can't be very specific at this point, but it's looking like the overall turnout will be higher than that of the 1998 general election," Bryant said.

That election featured Republican incumbent Gov. Bill Graves running against House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, a Wichita Democrat. Fifty percent of the state's registered voters cast ballots.

The increase in advance voters came as no surprise to Kansas University political science professor Burdett Loomis.

"Getting out the advance has become a strong function of the parties and the candidates' organizations," he said. "It lets you put the ballots in the hands of people you're almost certain are going to vote for you, and then you can focus on whatever ducks you want to hunt."

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