Topeka — Described as "horrendous," Kansas' 18.2 percent voter turnout in the Aug. 1 primary may prompt a change in future primary election dates, officials said Wednesday.
"It's time to at least look at the date when Kansans cast their primary votes," said Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh. "We can't ignore the horrendous turnout from this last primary."
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius echoed his concern.
"I'm a big believer that democracy is not a spectator sport, and we need people to be engaged and be involved because these decisions are very critical," Sebelius said.
Thornburgh, Sebelius and Eric Rucker, who is Atty. Gen. Phill Kline's chief of staff, met as the State Board of Canvassers. The board certified the results of the Aug. 1 primary.
The primaries saw 298,972 of 1,646,987 registered voters cast ballots. The 18.2 percent participation rate was far below the previous record low of 26 percent in 2002.
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- Primary election results
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- Election 2006 - Kansas races
Douglas County had the third-lowest county turnout in the state at 12.2 percent, which was possibly a record low for the county. Comanche County in southwest Kansas had the highest turnout with 56.3 percent, while Cherokee County in southeast Kansas had the lowest at 9 percent.
Thornburgh, a Republican, said his office would give serious consideration to recommending a change in the primary election date, which has been the first Tuesday in August for nearly a century.
Sebelius, a Democrat, said she would consider a different primary date because "Aug. 1 is not a great time to find people at home."
She said many Kansas families are trying to take vacation then before the start of the school year.
The campaign of Sebelius' challenger in the governor's race, Republican state Sen. Jim Barnett, of Emporia, said if the primary date is moved it should be set earlier.
Moving the date later in the year would put challengers who had contested primary elections at a disadvantage, according to Christian Morgan, Barnett's campaign manager.
Moving it later in the year, he said, gives challengers less time to raise campaign funds and switch gears from a primary election to a general election, he said.
Many political observers also believe low turnout favors conservative candidates whose supporters are more motivated to vote. But Morgan said that wasn't necessarily true.
"I don't think it's the golden rule that low turnout helps conservatives. Low turnout helps whoever works the hardest," he said.
Thornburgh said the low turnout on Aug. 1 was caused by the low number of contested races and lack of much television campaigning.
The Democratic Party had one contested statewide contest and four contested state House elections. Meanwhile, only one of the Republican Party candidates - Barnett - in the gubernatorial primary ran television ads.
Jamie Shew, Douglas County clerk, agreed that early August is not a good time to hold a primary because of vacations and the usually hot weather during that time period.
And Shew added that in Douglas County, the primary was held the week of the county fair, which reduced the number of people available to work in the election.
"We had trouble staffing the polls," Shew said.
In Lawrence, there were no contested state House primaries, which added to the low interest, Shew said.
In Eudora, where a swimming pool bond issue was on the ballot, voter turnout was 20 percent, slightly better than the state average.
Douglas County's 12.2 percent turnout was the lowest at least going back to the 1950s, Shew said.
Nationwide, states hold their primaries during a wide range of dates. In 2006, the Texas primary was March 7, while many states have primaries scheduled in mid- to late-September.
Sebelius said she hoped more Kansans would vote in the Nov. 7 general election, and that the state's advance voting law makes it easier for residents to cast ballots.
More than 17 percent of total votes were advance ballots in the primary, compared with 12.8 percent in 2004.