The Douglas County Elections Office was a hive of activity on Wednesday as residents turned out in what could be record numbers on the first day of in-person advance voting for the Aug. 2 election.
Although some voters said their decision to vote early was for practical reasons, many others reported a desire to get to the ballot box early for the opportunity to vote on the constitutional amendment that would enable Kansas legislators to ban abortion if it passes.
Kansas primary elections are usually partisan, but because that amendment is on the ballot, all voters — including those who are unaffiliated — may vote in the Aug. 2 election.
Voter Linda Lickteig said she had been protesting for the right to choose for many years, and she didn’t want to miss her opportunity to vote against the amendment.
“Women had to fight for this,” she said. “There’s no way you’re going to keep me from voting. No way. Not this time.”
Tim Wood said he was also eager to vote early to ensure that his voice would be heard. He said waiting for Election Day didn’t appeal to him because he worried something might prevent him from getting to the polls.
“One of my worst fears is that somehow I can’t vote,” Wood said. “There’s a constitutional amendment that I find pretty significant for us to pay attention to, for a lot of different reasons.”
The elections office relocated from the courthouse in July 2021 to a new, more accessible space at 711 W. 23rd St. Advance in-person voting began on Wednesday and will continue at the Lawrence elections office until noon Monday, Aug. 1.
Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said the new space, which was originally a grocery store but most recently housed the now-closed Epic Fun family entertainment center, had made the rush of Wednesday’s voters more manageable.
“Operationally it’s better from a voter standpoint to just park and come right in to a huge, open, well-lit space to vote,” he said. “The courthouse is a really neat building and it’s iconic, but it was hard to find parking and to get into. On a day like today where we’ve got 350 voters, it would have been really packed.”
Although COVID-19 skewed numbers in 2020, historically primary elections have seen turnouts much smaller than general elections.
Shew said the total number of in-person primary voters in 2014 was 1,180. In 2016, the number dropped to 991. In 2018, 2,200 voters came to the primary polls. Shew reported that on Wednesday alone, the office had accepted 350 in-person advance ballots before 2 p.m.
“These are the kind of numbers in voter registration that usually happen before an even-year general election,” Shew said.
“It is difficult to really predict percentage turnout right now. There has never been a constitutional amendment in an August primary that I can find. They are always on the general election ballot, so this is un-charted territory for election prediction.”
He said that aside from 2020, the most mailed ballots his office had sent in a primary was 1,100. As of Wednesday, the Douglas County Elections office had mailed 5,200 ballots to eligible voters.
Shew said advance voting applications and voter registration numbers accelerated dramatically on and after June 24. That was the day the U.S. Supreme Court released its opinion overturning Roe v. Wade. In the 54 days from May 1 to June 23, the office received 100 advance voting by mail applications. In the 20 days since June 24, 4,218 applications have arrived, and Shew said the requests continue to pour in. The final day to request a ballot to vote by mail is Tuesday, July 26.
Also between May 1 and June 23, 453 people registered to vote in Douglas County. Between June 24 and the July 12 deadline, that number jumped to 588, plus approximately 1,000 more applications that Shew said awaited processing.
“I don’t know if we’ll get to general kind of numbers, but we’re going break any primary record,” he said.
Voter Jennifer Glenn said she regularly gets to the polls before Election Day, but this year felt even more significant.
“I always try to advance vote and so I don’t drop dead and not get my vote in there. I want my vote to count,” Glenn said. “This time I feel very strongly that everybody should vote the way I tell them to vote, which is no.”
Glenn also said she questioned the intentions of the Republican-led Legislature that approved redistricting maps that moved liberal-leaning Lawrence into the more conservative Kansas 1st District and split dependably Democratic voters in Wyandotte County between the 2nd and 3rd Districts for U.S. House of Representatives elections.
The Kansas Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the redistricting maps in May.
“Nothing makes sense to me at all anymore, period,” Glenn said. “It hasn’t for six years now. I mean, it is what it is. But you know, old white men keep trying to f— us over repeatedly in so many different ways.”
Jeff Southard, a poll worker who said he was voting early because he wouldn’t have the opportunity on Election Day, also expressed concern on Wednesday about how redistricting might affect Lawrence’s representation at the Capitol.
“We’re going to be truly unique,” Southard said. “We are the largest city in that district right now, but the congressman will never come here. He’ll never have a presence because there’s no reason to. We’re going to be like a black hole. It will be very odd to have the largest city in the district totally ignored.”
Douglas County voters may cast their ballots in person from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday at the elections office, 711 W. 23rd St., through Friday, July 29. Bring an ID to vote in person. Additional information about advance voting locations and hours is available at this link.
All registered voters may vote in the primary. According to the county elections office, “Republicans and Democrats will vote their party’s ballot. Unaffiliated voters may affiliate with one of those parties at their polling place or they may vote a question-only ballot. Libertarians will vote the question-only ballot.”
Voters may also request advance ballots be mailed to them through the website KSVotes.org. The deadline to request a mail ballot is Tuesday, July 26.
Early voter voices
“We knew we have to vote and so to get out of the house. We don’t leave much except to go to the store and back home and to the doctor. I’m doing my duty.”
“I wanted to vote early. I felt the need and the urge. [The amendment] is a pressing issue, and it’s foremost on my mind. I want to have something to say about it right away.”
“Obviously, there’s a lot of interest in this particular election. That helps to increase one’s incentive to vote. If we vote early we don’t have to worry about the weather or any problems that might occur on the actual date of the election. It’s just good to get the thing taken care of.”
“We don’t normally vote early, but we’re leaving town, and we’ll be gone. This is not as much about the Senate or other races as it is about the abortion ban. For sure that was the bigger reason that we wanted to vote.”
“I think it’s going to pass 60-40 statewide, so I’m taking bets. Lawrence will be like 70-30 no, but statewide I think it’ll be like 60-40 yes. That’s the way the marriage amendment was 16 years ago. It will be interesting to see if it’s comparable to that.”