‘The largest election we’ve ever had’: Douglas County voters break records despite pandemic

photo by: Meeting screenshot/Douglas County Commission

Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew speaks to the County Commission after they certified the results for the 2020 general election on Monday, Nov. 16, 2020.

Story updated at 4:16 p.m. Monday

Despite an ongoing pandemic, Douglas County voters broke many records during the general election earlier this month, the county’s top election official said Monday.

Residents cast the most ballots in county history, and the largest portion of registered voters took part as well.

Before the County Commission certified the 2020 general election results Monday morning, County Clerk Jamie Shew told the commissioners that the county saw more than 60,000 ballots cast — the most the county has ever recorded — leading to a 73% turnout, which is the first time the county has broken the 70% threshold.

“That is the largest election we’ve ever had,” Shew said. “This is a record on all accounts.”

During the meeting, the commissioners approved adding almost 2,000 ballots to the election results. Shew said there was a large amount of provisional ballots for various reasons, including voters who received advance mail ballots but later chose to vote in person. The commissioners also discarded about 480 provisional ballots. Shew said the number of provisional ballots the county processed was also “one of the highest” in its history.

Previous coverage

– For more details about Douglas County’s elections process, read this Q&A with Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew from October.

The county set its records for turnout and ballots cast without seeing its highest number of voters registered — there were about 1,000 more in 2008 — but Shew told the Journal-World that the number fluctuates with presidential elections and fewer students likely registered this year.

Other records that were broken this year involved the amount of advance ballots cast, both in person and through the mail. Shew said more than 15,000 voters cast their ballots early in person and about 30,000 voters cast advance mail ballots.

In total, 43,818 of the 47,107 advance ballots were counted before Election Day, providing a 93% return rate. When including the provisional ballots, including those who requested an advance ballot but later voted in person, that rate increased to 97%, Shew said.

“That is a remarkable statistic,” he said.

Additionally, Shew noted the county did not receive many mail ballots after Election Day. State law allows for mail ballots to be counted if they are postmarked by Election Day and returned to the clerk’s office within three days of the election. But Shew said public discussions encouraging voters to return their ballots early appeared to have worked.

Many people encouraging returning ballots early were doing so because of concerns raised about the U.S. Postal Service’s role in the election. Earlier in the fall, changes to the service’s processing protocols caused alarm among voters and some politicians about whether ballots would be returned and counted on time. President Donald Trump later admitted the changes were made to hamper voting by mail, the Associated Press reported.

However, Shew said the local post office did everything it could to make sure ballots were returned on time.

“They made it their mission, all of them, to get us our ballots and make sure they were postmarked,” Shew said of the local post office. “We were very appreciative of that.”

Shew also thanked many volunteers — including poll workers and organizations that provided supplies or space for voting sites — who helped make sure the largest election in county history was conducted amid a pandemic.

While thanking his staff for their work during the election, Shew became emotional. He said his staff often came to work scared because of the pandemic but still put in “amazing hours.” He also noted their families were dealing with the stress of the pandemic while they were often gone working on election matters.

“While this was the hardest election we’ve ever run, this was the most incredible election we’ve ever run,” Shew said. “We’ve never seen that kind of support before.”

In light of Shew’s comments, the commissioners all thanked him and his office for their work, especially during the pandemic.

“I know this county has tremendous confidence in this election process because of your work,” Commission Chair Patrick Kelly said. “To know you did it during a pandemic, it’s one of those stories that once this is all over we’ll talk about how amazing that work was and what you accomplished.”

Douglas County official 2020 general election results

Registered voters: 82,391

Total counted ballots: 60,150

Turnout: 73%

Contested races

U.S. President

Joe Biden, Democrat — 40,785 — 68.55%

Donald Trump, Republican — 17,286 — 29.05%

Jo Jorgensen, Libertarian — 1,424 — 2.39%

U.S. Senate

Barbara Bollier, Democrat — 40,262 — 67.69%

Roger Marshall, Republican — 16,594 — 27.9%

Jason Buckley, Libertarian — 2,623 — 4.41%

U.S. 2nd Congressional District

Michelle De La Isla, Democrat — 38,395 — 65.19%

Jake LaTurner, Republican — 18,005 — 30.57%

Robert Garrard, Libertarian — 2,494 — 4.23%

Kansas Senate 3rd District

Tom Holland, Democrat — 13,733 — 64.71%

Willie Dove, Republican — 7,488 — 35.29%

Douglas County Commission 2nd District

Shannon Reid, Democrat — 12,020 — 62.64%

Brett LaRue, Republican — 7,170 — 37.36%

Douglas County Commission 3rd District

Shannon Portillo, Democrat — 13,602 — 60.65%

Pam McDermott, Republican — 8,824 — 39.35%

Contact Dylan Lysen

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