Advance voting hours extended until 7 tonight; Lawrence City Commission election will go on as scheduled Tuesday

Voters wanting to avoid the predicted Election Day snowstorm Tuesday have been given a second chance.

A ruling by the Kansas Secretary of State will allow advance voting to continue until 7 tonight at the Douglas County Courthouse, 11th and Massachusetts streets. Previously, state regulations were set to close advance voting at noon today.

Stu Harwood, one of about two dozen voters in line at the courthouse prior to noon, suggested voters take advantage of the unexpected reprieve, because he’s pretty sure what tomorrow’s going to be like.

“Sheer hell,” Harwood said. “There is no way the roads will be clear enough for me to get out tomorrow.”

But the primary election for the Lawrence City Commission will go on as scheduled. Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said no one has found anything in Kansas state law that allows for an election to be postponed under any circumstance.

“I know many legal minds are looking at it, but I don’t think there is anything in the law that allows it to be postponed,” Shew said.

Eleven candidates are running for three seats on the Lawrence City Commission. Tuesday’s primary — in which voters will be allowed to vote for up to three candidates — will narrow the field to six candidates. The April 2 General Election will determine the three winners. All seats on the City Commission are at-large seats, so all ballots will be the same throughout the city.

Shew and other staff members will be spending the night at the Douglas County Courthouse or other locations downtown in order to be ready to start running the election when polls open at 7 a.m.

“I will be doing everything I can to get every polling place open tomorrow,” Shew said.

But with the forecast calling for several inches of snow, and perhaps blowing snow, he can’t guarantee every polling place will be open.

So tomorrow, the name of the game will be to find any polling place that is open and go vote. Shew said even if voters can’t go to their normal polling place, they will be allowed to cast a provisional ballot at any polling place in the city. Those ballots will have to go through a special process, but they will be counted, Shew said. Voters also can go to the Douglas County Courthouse to vote tomorrow.

Election officials in Shawnee County announced today that they were consolidating Topeka’s polling places into one location, while officials in Wyandotte and Johnson county reportedly were consolidating locations as well.

Shew said he has no plans to do so in Lawrence. Shew said many of Lawrence’s polling places are within walking distance of many homes. Moving polling to a single location would make it more difficult for people to walk to a polling place.

“I think it may make it easier for us, but more difficult for the voters,” Shew said.

State law requires that each polling place have at least two trained election workers on site, Shew said. He said he has made arrangements with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department, Lawrence Police Department and other governmental agencies with four-wheel drive vehicles to pick up election workers who do not think they can make it otherwise.

He said Douglas County and city crews also will be doing snow clearing of sidewalks at private polling places, such as churches.

Many voters, however, were deciding not to take a chance on the weather. By noon, Shew’s office had taken about 2,300 advance ballots. He thinks his office may receive another 700 or more ballots before the advance voting window closes at 7 tonight. In a typical city election, fewer than 1,500 people normally cast an advance ballot.

On Monday, several voters said they simply didn’t want to risk being unable to vote on Tuesday.

“I don’t have any particular issue on my mind,” said Dean Boyd. “It is just time to vote. I’m 71 and I’ve only missed one election since I was 18.”

Monday’s ruling by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach will give more people a chance to do so on Monday. Prior to the ruling, which came just before noon, Douglas County Sheriff’s deputies were monitoring the door of the Courthouse, prepared to tell voters that they had missed the deadline.

When word came down that officials in Topeka had extended the deadline, one unidentified voter in line summed up his feelings.

“That’s the first good decision they have made in Topeka in a long time,” he said.