Post last updated at 6:02 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 2:
Voters are flocking to the polls in Lawrence as a routine summer primary election was overshadowed and supercharged by a vote on a constitutional amendment that could decide the future of abortion in Kansas.
The constitutional amendment on the ballot would allow politicians to ban abortion in Kansas if it passes (a “yes” vote). The state election has garnered national attention since the state is the first to vote on abortion access since the U.S. Supreme Court in June stripped the constitutionally protected right to an abortion at the federal level.
As of 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, 31.4% of Douglas County voters had turned out to vote — either in person or by mail — in the 2022 primary election. And the Douglas County elections Twitter account tweeted at 4:18 p.m. that county officials were struggling to compile an afternoon update to voting numbers because of the extreme turnout.
“Honestly the polling places are not able to answer the phone,” the tweet said. “Turnout is extremely heavy, please be patient with the boards and staff.”
The elections office also tweeted a reminder — as long as you’re in line to vote by 7 p.m., you will get to cast your ballot. Don’t get out of line, and “Please be patient as the board workers get everyone processed.”
Voter interest in Douglas County rose sharply this summer following the Supreme Court’s decision. Douglas County Elections Clerk Jamie Shew said in July that advance voting applications spiked after the Supreme Court decision.
Keith Wood has worked numerous primaries and general elections over the past 12 years. But he says this year’s primary stands out.
“Turnout has been amazing,” said Wood, who’s serving as supervising judge for precincts 6 and 13 at the polling place at the American Legion hall at 3408 W. Sixth St.
“Normally for us with this precinct, a primary would be 400 [voters] or so, 500 maybe. There was a huge number of advance voters and we’re already over 600 and we still have a few hours to go. It’s exceptionally good turnout for a primary. We’ve been busy since the door opened this morning. We had a line all morning waiting to vote, just a constant flow.”
The constitutional amendment appeared to be the reason for the crowds of voters, including those who are not affiliated with a party and usually wouldn’t be part of a primary election.
“We have lots and lots of unaffiliated voters,” Wood said. “Just coming to vote on the amendment.”
In Wood’s eyes, the turnout rivals general elections, including the 2020 presidential election.
“This is like a general election,” he said. “Just the amount of interest and the number of people coming in, lots of people we have not seen before. They just don’t normally vote in primary elections.”
Kayla Deere, of Lawrence, expressed frustration about numerous instances of disinformation shared with the public, including a misleading text message campaign aimed at potential voters.
Deere, who shared her own abortion experience with us last month, said those messages seemed intended to “completely confuse people going to vote.”
“I’m very nervous,” she said. “I’m hoping that most people understand how important it is that we have the right over our own bodies and health care.”
Deere said she hoped she would know the outcome before going to bed Tuesday night.
“I’m trying to just put all the positive energy out into the world that people will vote ‘no’ and that Kansans will remain safe and able to make their own health care decisions themselves,” she said.
Jarron Lewis, 22, said the ballot question went beyond abortion rights.
“We’re in a time where we are facing restrictions from the government, especially women,” said Lewis, who voted at the polling place at Redemption Hill Church, 802 W. 22nd Terrace. “I have the privilege of not being affected [by this vote], so I need to speak up for those women who are really important to me. Without women there is no life. Women harness life, so they should have the power to decide whether they should create it.”
Elliot Bradley, 20, said this election was particularly important to her because it could ensure women maintain access to reproductive health services.
“I believe in trusting women,” Bradley said at the Redemption Church polling place. “The freedom of choice is important because everyone needs to have access to what they need access to.”
Kansas Director of Elections Brian Caskey said in talking with counties across the state Tuesday, the Secretary of State’s office is predicting voter turnout has the potential to be significantly higher than the 36% they expected.
“I’m optimistic that we can significantly beat our prediction. Across the state, voters are showing up in high amounts,” Caskey said in an afternoon media briefing.
Secretary of State spokesperson Whitney Temple said the election is otherwise going smoothly, and there have been few issues with voting machines and zero reported issues with the heat wave sweeping the state.
Shew said in an email Tuesday afternoon that “We have learned that during the re-districting of Precinct 63, the name of Michael T. Kennedy did not make it on the ballot for Republican Precinct Committeeperson on 63C.3. The polling place is aware and implementing mitigation efforts.”
Here’s a map of voter turnout for Douglas County, as of the 10:30 a.m. Tuesday numbers:
Keep an eye on The Lawrence Times for more turnout numbers and election results as they start to come in.
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— Conner Mitchell, Tricia Masenthin, Chansi Long, Cuyler Dunn and Mark Potts contributed to this post.