Most local races likely to be decided by Democratic voters; clerk’s office sees massive influx in requests to vote by mail
photo by: Nick Krug/Journal-World File Photo
Douglas County voters will soon decide many local political races, but registered Republicans will have no voice in many outcomes.
That’s because all but one of the county seats that are up for election this year will likely be decided through Democratic primary elections, and the deadline to switch political parties for the primary election has already passed.
Additionally, voters may also notice that casting a ballot this summer will be a bit different as the coronavirus pandemic has caused the Douglas County Clerk’s Office to take measures to ensure safety at in-person polling sites. The virus has also led to many more voters choosing to vote by mail.
In light of all of this, Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew, the election officer for the county, recently explained to the Journal-World how voters can make sure they can be involved in the primary election this summer and what his office is doing to make sure people can vote safely amid a global pandemic.
“It’s an interesting year,” Shew said.
Douglas County’s Republican voters really won’t have the chance to cast a ballot in some of the deciding elections for Douglas County positions.
Six of the seven county seats that are up for election will likely be decided in the Democratic primaries. Five of those six races have only Democratic candidates running for the seats, leaving them without a Republican option to vote for in the primary election or the general election in November.
The sixth race of that bunch includes one Republican candidate — Brett LaRue, who will appear on the general election ballot for the Douglas County Commission’s 2nd District seat — but he previously told the Journal-World that he is not actively campaigning for the seat. LaRue also endorsed incumbent Democratic candidate Nancy Thellman in the race.
Under state law, registered voters affiliated with a party had until June 1 to switch parties, which would have allowed them to vote in their new party’s primary election, Shew said. The next opportunity to switch parties will come on Sept. 1, almost a month after the primary elections.
That leaves registered Republican voters in Douglas County largely out of the conversation for county seats, as the only seat that will have a competitive Republican candidate is the Douglas County Commission’s 3rd District seat. That race, which features four candidates, will have a primary election for both the Democratic and Republican candidates.
However, residents who have not yet registered to vote or who are currently unaffiliated with a political party may still join one to vote in the primary elections. Unregistered voters can join a political party during their registration process, which must be completed by July 14 to participate in the Aug. 4 primaries. Registered voters who are unaffiliated with a political party can join one up to the moment they choose to vote in the primary, Shew said.
It’s possible many unaffiliated or unregistered voters in Douglas County will soon be joining the Democratic Party to be able to vote in the bulk of the local elections. Those races include the election for Douglas County sheriff, which has three Democratic candidates running. That’s a major shift, as the sheriff’s position has been held by a Republican for decades, the Journal-World has reported.
The race for Douglas County district attorney has three candidates, all Democrats, including incumbent Charles Branson, who has been DA since 2005.
Despite the lack of Republican candidates in county races, Douglas County Republicans will still have major primary elections at the federal level. The U.S. Senate race in Kansas has 11 Republican candidates running for the seat of Sen. Pat Roberts, who is retiring. Additionally, the state’s 2nd Congressional District seat has three Republicans running for the seat, including incumbent Rep. Steve Watkins.
A list of races on the ballot can be found here.
Casting a ballot this year may also be a little different for many county voters because of the ongoing pandemic.
Shew said the county has seen a decrease in locations willing to host in-person voting this year, dropping from about 60 to 44 locations. That means many voters will likely need to cast a ballot at a new location if they choose to continue voting in person. Shew said his office began informing more than 20,000 voters of new poll locations on Monday.
“Each facility had to make their own decision,” Shew said, noting some that dropped out were assisted care facilities, which are locations that may put older residents at risk. “We were able to get some new places — we’re actually renting out a hotel ballroom — and then we did some combinations of polling places.”
The clerk’s office is also taking many precautions to help keep the remaining polling sites safe for in-person voting. Shew said some of those precautions include placing plastic shields to separate poll workers from voters, providing personal protective equipment to poll workers, encouraging voters to wear masks and routinely cleaning voting booths and equipment, among several other precautions.
But many Douglas County voters have already decided they plan to take advantage of mail-in voting, an option that has been available in the past but that has become more popular during the pandemic.
Shew said the most advance mail-in ballots the county had sent out for a primary election was about 3,000. But this year the county has already received more than 18,000 requests for advance mail-in ballots for the Aug. 4 primary. Shew said about 40% of those who have requested the advance mail ballots are voters who normally vote in person.
“We are seeing not only an increase in advance voting, but people who normally vote at the polls are asking for (advance mail) ballots,” he said.
And more could be coming. Douglas County residents can request an advance mail ballot until July 28. The ballots will begin reaching voters’ homes when advance voting begins on July 15. Once the ballot is received, the voter has until the day of the primary election to turn it in.
All advance mail ballots sent to the county with a postmark of Aug. 4 or earlier will be counted. Advance mail ballots may also be dropped off at the County Courthouse or a polling place, but must be in before 7 p.m. on Aug. 4, which is when polls close, Shew said.
Additionally, Shew said he was looking to change where residents can cast in-person advance votes. Normally, advance in-person voting occurs at the Douglas County Courthouse, but Shew said anyone who’s been in the building knows it can get cramped quickly.
To provide a safe, socially distanced voting experience for in-person voters, Shew said the clerk’s office was working to establish a new polling place. However, that location has not yet been determined. Shew said he hoped to announce the new location soon.
“We’re trying to find a location that allows us to spread out,” Shew said.
More information on how to register to vote or request an advance mail ballot can be found on the county’s election website, douglascountyelections.com.
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