Voters were pretty consistent in their turnout and ultimate support for the Lawrence school district’s bond campaign, according to canvassing information recently released by the Douglas County clerk’s office.
In a mail-in election May 2, district voters approved the $87 million bond issue for Lawrence’s secondary schools by more than 74 percent.
In a breakdown of the numbers earlier this week, Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said two things stood out to him when studying a precinct map of election results. The first, he said, was voter turnout, which he said was fairly consistent across Lawrence.
“Usually, if we were to do a special election that was a polling place election, turnout would not be consistent throughout the city,” Shew said. “So, that tells me a lot about the mail ballot election — that more people participated in a more evenly manner.”
County officials reported a voter turnout of approximately 35 percent, a slight hike from the roughly 33 percent reported in the district’s 2015 mail-in election. During that election, 84 percent of voters decided to keep the district’s local option budget at 33 percent.
The second thing that caught Shew's attention this time around was “there’s nothing that stands out to me” as far as certain neighborhoods voting overwhelming one way or the other, “which sometimes you can see” in local elections, Shew said, such as referendums for a new Lawrence Public Library or police department headquarters.
The areas that did vote against the bond issue, he added, were Clinton Township and portions of Marion Township and Wakarusa Township — all rural communities in the southwestern corner of the Lawrence district. Shew doesn’t have a theory for that area’s lack of support for the bond issue, he said, though if he were to speculate, he might point to the Lawrence school board’s “contentious” decision in 2011 to close the Wakarusa Valley School, which served rural families in the area southeast of Clinton Lake.
But Shew also cautions against too much speculation when it comes to areas outside Lawrence city limits. The northern segment of Wakarusa Township, for instance, voted in support of the bond issue by 53 percent. In rural Grant Township just north of Lawrence, the bond passed easily with about 65 percent of the vote.
Within Lawrence city limits, the area near Deerfield Elementary School showed the least support for the bond issue — but it still passed in that precinct by about 69 percent, Shew said. Because this bond issue focused mainly on Lawrence High School over Free State High School, there may have been some who wondered if Free State precincts might be less likely to support the bond. But, Shew said, that wasn’t the case.
“It is about as evenly spread as I’ve ever seen a special election,” said Shew, who theorizes that the convenience of a mail-in election (as opposed to a traditional polling-place election) may have encouraged higher turnout this time.
“The thing that really stands out to me is the turnout, and how it’s spread throughout the city,” Shew said. “And that’s pretty impressive for me.”
“A lot of times, you can look at this and see something that says, ‘Oh wow, that area really didn’t support that,” he added of election results, “but I don’t see that here.”