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00000179-cdc6-d978-adfd-cfc6d7d40002Coverage of the issues, races and people shaping Kansas elections in 2016, including statewide coverage in partnership with KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, and High Plains Public Radio.

Voting Heavy At Early Polling Sites Across Kansas

Nadya Faulx
KMUW/File photo
Voters in Sedgwick County wait to cast ballots in the primary election in August.

Nearly twice as many Kansas voters are now casting ballots at early polling sites across the state, compared to the last presidential election, according to the secretary of state's office.

As of 8 a.m. Thursday, 67,211 people voted in person almost double the 33,832 who did so at that point in the 2014 election. Mail-in ballots are going out at roughly the same pace, with 173,893 mail-in ballots sent out since Oct. 19 across Kansas. Some 49,568 mail-in ballots have been returned. 

Both the Republicans and Democrats are finding something to cheer about as the parties analyze the daily lists they each receive showing who has voted so far.

In the deep red state of Kansas, it is not surprising that 51 percent of the people who have voted in person as of Thursday have been registered Republicans. Registered Democrats account for 34 percent of those early in-person voters, said Kelly Arnold, chairman of the Kansas Republican Party.

Half of the mail-in ballots sent out went to registered Republicans, compared to 32 percent for Democrats, he said.

"Typically Democrats have always held an advantage in the early voting part ... we are not seeing them crushing the numbers like they normally do," Arnold said, adding that Republicans in the state tend to be Election Day voters.

Clay Barker, executive director of Kansas Republican Party, said early voting so far shows "no bad surprises for us."

But the GOP's own analysis of early voter lists also shows that Kansas Democrats are doing a slightly better job of getting their party's unlikely voters out early to cast a ballot: 12 percent of the Democrats who have voted so far were unlikely voters, compared to 8 percent of Republicans who fell in that category.

Cheyenne Davis, field director for the Kansas Democratic Party, contended party affiliation is an "antiquated way" to look at voting in Kansas because so many people in the state register as Republicans in order to be able to vote in contested GOP primaries, but then don't necessarily vote Republican in the general election.

"We are optimistic, we look at it on a day-to-day basis," Davis said. "We know a lot of Democrats are out there voting and we are excited about that."

In Johnson County, the state's most populous county, early voting has broken all-time records for the first three days of in-person voting, said Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker.

More than 34,000 residents had voted as of Thursday in Johnson County, which has six early polling sites now open. There has been a constant stream of cars looking for a place to park, and wait times in some early voting lines have reached as long as 21 minutes. (The average wait time for Kansas voters in 2012 was 11 minutes.)

Many voters, particularly older citizens, are telling election officials they are "a little nervous" about what is going to happen Election Day, so they decided to vote in advance, Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said. Others say they have made up their mind.

"This election has been very long," Shew said. "And the bigger trend is people saying, 'I am done with this election.'"

In Johnson County, the "onslaught" from early voting comes at the same time election workers are trying to process a backlog of 9,700 voter registrations, many that came in just two days before the Oct. 18 voter registration deadline, Metsker said.

"We will get caught up, but we had an enormous swell," he said. "It is like a tsunami that hit us."