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Early Voting Numbers Up In Wichita Elections

LaRissa Lawrie
KMUW/File photo
Sedgwick County opens 15 voting locations in advance of Tuesday's General Election.

With days to go before Election Day, early voter turnout numbers in Wichita are already up over the last mayoral election amid a highly contested race.

Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman says last week’s early voting at the county election office in downtown Wichita surpassed the total number of early votes cast in the 2015 city election.

She says there is also a 90 percent increase in the number of requests for mail-in ballots this year compared to the 2015 race.

“That’s really attributable to the fact that in the Wichita’s mayor’s race, both candidates sent out a flyer encouraging people to vote by mail,” she says, “and that’s not normal for us to see in a city/school board election.”

Only two names are on the ballot for Wichita mayor, but a last-minute write-in campaign is drawing extra attention to the race.

Incumbent Mayor Jeff Longwell and state Rep. Brandon Whipple are vying to be elected the city’s next mayor on Nov. 5. They’re both facing a challenge from retired businessman Lyndy Wells, who finished third in the August primary and launched a write-in campaign two weeks ago, just as early voting was beginning.

City offices and school board races all have a write-in option, but Wells is the first to actively campaign as a write-in candidate since the Wichita mayor’s race in 2003. Lehman says that race had more than 17,000 write-in votes.

“Our voter registration numbers have increased across Sedgwick County by more than 100,000 voters since then, so we may see more write-ins than that, but we just don’t know,” she says. “So that means that we have to hire more staff in to count those write-ins after election night.”

The 2015 city election had fewer than 1,500 write-in votes. Lehman says the write-in voting process is simple.

“On [the] paper ballot, they simply fill in the oval next to the write-in line, and write the name of who they want to vote for,” Lehman says. “On the voting machines, they are going to push on ‘write-in’ and a keyboard will pop up, and they will type in the write-in and then hit ‘accept.’”

She says a bipartisan board of election officials will hand-count each write-in vote the day after the election.

“We’ll have a general number of how many write-ins there potentially are on Election Day, but those all have to be reviewed,” she says. “And sometimes we look at that ballot and say that’s not really a write-in.”

The voting machines are sensitive so Lehman says it’s possible that even a shadow on the write-in line might suggest it’s a write-in vote.

Residents can vote early at locations across Sedgwick County beginning Thursday through Saturday.

Voters can cast a ballot or drop off an advance mail ballot at 10 Wichita locations and five sites in suburbs including Valley Center, Goddard and Derby. The locations are open from noon to 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.

The Sedgwick County Election Office is also available for voting from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. this week, and from 8 a.m. to noon Monday.

Sedgwick County will have nearly 80 polling locations open on Election Day.

Mail ballots are accepted three days after Election Day so Lehman expects to update the unofficial results on Nov. 8. A vote canvass on Nov. 15 will consider provisional ballots and certify the election results.

Follow Deborah Shaar on Twitter @deborahshaar. To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.

Deborah joined the news team at KMUW in September 2014 as a news reporter. She spent more than a dozen years working in news at both public and commercial radio and television stations in Ohio, West Virginia and Detroit, Michigan. Before relocating to Wichita in 2013, Deborah taught news and broadcasting classes at Tarrant County College in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas area.