Advance voter turnout ‘extremely low’ so far for local primary elections

A gathering of stickers along the counter at the Douglas County Courthouse awaited early voters, Nov. 3, 2016.

Douglas County officials say early voting in primary elections is off to an “extremely slow” start.

Nearly two weeks after early voting began for the Lawrence City Commission and Lecompton school board primaries, only about 275 people have cast their ballots, according to Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew.

Shew said those numbers are only a fraction of those cast in previous years.

“The 2015 total advance vote was 948,” Shew said. “And we’re less than a week out from advance voting (ending) and we haven’t even voted a third of that number yet.”

This is the first year for a new election schedule, in which primary elections take place Aug. 1 ahead of the general election on Nov. 7. Early voting began July 12, and the total number of votes received so far includes in-person ballots and those received by mail.

The City Commission primary includes eight candidates for three open seats and is the only question on the ballot for Lawrence voters. Typically, primary elections are held when the number of candidates who file is more than three times the number of open seats. In 2008, however, the commission enacted a home-rule measure that necessitated a primary when the number of candidates is more than twice the number of open seats.

Polling places are also open in Lecompton for the school board primary election, in which four candidates filed for a seat.

Shew said August has always been a difficult time to get people interested in a primary, and he thinks that is especially true in Lawrence because of the University of Kansas’ academic calendar.

“A lot of people go on vacation and there is a lot going on, so trying to get people’s attention that there’s an election can be difficult,” Shew said.

The terms of City Commissioners Lisa Larsen, Mike Amyx and Matthew Herbert are expiring this year. The candidates are Herbert, Larsen, Jennifer Ananda, Bassem Chahine, Dustin Stumblingbear, Ken Easthouse, Mike Anderson and Christian Lyche. The primary election will narrow the field from eight candidates to six.

The four Lecompton school board candidates are Debra Walburn, Stephanie Confer, Nick Fergus and Brad Guess. The primary will eliminate one of the candidates. In Lecompton, voters can cast advance ballots at Lecompton City Hall, 327 Elmore St., and Big Springs United Methodist Church, 96 Highway 40.

Early voting in Lawrence can be done between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St. The last day to request an advance ballot to be mailed is Tuesday. Advance voting closes at noon July 31, and the primary election is Aug. 1.