Douglas County could ‘shatter’ previous primary turnouts, county election officer says

photo by: Nick Krug/Journal-World File Photo

A collection of "I voted" stickers is pictured at the Douglas County Courthouse in this file photo from Nov. 3, 2016.

Despite an unprecedented global health crisis, Douglas County appears to be on pace to far surpass any previous voter turnout for a primary election.

Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew told the Journal-World Tuesday that projection is based on several factors, but most notably the county’s marked increase in requests to vote in advance and by mail.

The newspaper reported Monday that Douglas County received 21,157 requests for advance mail ballots. Shew said that number alone was significantly higher than the total number of votes the county has seen in recent election year primaries, which normally turn out around 11,000 voters. Even in Douglas County’s 2018 primaries, an election year that saw historically high turnout nationwide, only 20,000 people voted in the county, which would amount to a turnout of around 25%.

As of Tuesday morning, Shew said the county office had received 14,170 returned ballots for a rate of 67%. That number is already higher than the number of typical county primary voters, and Shew said he expected the advance ballot return rate to continue to climb toward 80%. And, he said, the county had around 1,000 people vote early at in-person polling locations.

“I’d expect we’re going to shatter the primary record as far as the number of votes cast,” Shew said.

Shew also attributed the high turnout prediction to races in the county that are competitive for the first time in years. The race for Douglas County district attorney, for example, has multiple challengers for the first time since Charles Branson was elected in 2004.

Unlike more rural areas across the state and country that are currently struggling to adapt to a rapid influx of mail ballots, Douglas County should be well equipped to handle such a surge, Shew said. The county has worked to educate voters on voting by mail since 2012 and, in turn, has better prepared its offices to adjust to mail-in voting procedures.

The county has two machines available to scan ballots, and even with the sizeable increase in advance mail voting, Shew said he was confident those machines could handle any increased turnout both Tuesday and in November.

“A couple of years ago we bought new equipment, and I’m really confident that’s enough,” he said.

Kansas law allows for local election offices to scan advance ballots they receive at any time, though they can’t be counted until after the polls close at 7 p.m. Offices are also required to keep 25 “leftover” mail ballots to scan through the machines and finalize the counting process, Shew said, but the ability to scan them ahead of time means that results in the county shouldn’t be delayed by any significant measure in releasing results Tuesday evening.

Counties that don’t have the same technology as Douglas County, though, may face reporting delays, Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab’s office said Monday.

“We don’t anticipate it delaying results here,” Shew said. “Sometimes we have advance (numbers) out by 7:30 or 8.”

That said, Shew cautioned against calling races too quickly. Any ballot that is received by Friday at 5 p.m. and postmarked on or before Tuesday will count, and in close races, that can swing results. Elections also aren’t final until they are later certified by both local and state election boards.

Polls in Douglas County close at 7 p.m. today.


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