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Across Johnson and Wyandotte counties, more than 127,000 voters cast ballots Nov. 2 in local races ranging from mayoral seats to city councils to school boards.
Turnout in a local election year is generally lower than in a presidential election year. Still, in a time of hotly contested races — for instance, the mayoral races in Overland Park and Kansas City, Kansas — what did voter turnout look like?
Johnson County exceeds turnout expectations
Before Nov. 2, officials in Johnson County projected turnout of around 20%, said Nathan Carter, administrator of the county’s election office. The county exceeded those expectations.
As of Thursday, the voter turnout was at 25.01%. The final, official turnout could be higher once provisional ballots are counted and if any outstanding mail-in ballots are received before the 7 p.m. deadline on Friday.
“Local elections are really important,” Carter said. “And it’s good to see the voters came out and exceeded the turnout from the most recent local elections in 2019 and 2017.”
Carter said high-profile contests, such as the Overland Park mayor’s race and school board races, drew interest from voters. He also said the Johnson County Election Board has made efforts in recent years to create a consistent and convenient voting experience.
In last year’s presidential election and this year’s local election, for instance, the county offered multiple locations where voters could drop off mail ballots. This year, Carter said, the county added an advance voting location at the Monticello Library in Shawnee, for eight total sites.
“We’ve had consistent voting locations, consistent advanced voting hours,” Carter said. “We’ve expanded those hours and those locations when we can, so I think all those things are coming together and we saw an increased turnout.”
Carter said the county has also seen higher voter turnout in local elections since the Kansas Legislature passed a law in 2015 changing the date of city and school board elections from April to November.
This year’s turnout was higher than in November 2019, when counties held their last local elections.
“Now voters can get in the habit of, every November, they’re going to the Arts & Heritage Center to early vote,” Carter said. “And I think establishing those patterns with voters is really important.”
Wyandotte County sees lower voter turnout despite high-profile races
Turnout in Wyandotte County was a different story. Michael Abbott, the county’s election commissioner, said the day after Election Day that turnout was 18.47%. That doesn’t include mail ballots yet to be received or provisional ballots.
For an election that decided the mayor, several commissioners and the sheriff, Abbott said he would have liked to have seen a bigger turnout.
“There’s just not a whole lot of buzz with the local election,” Abbott said. “I don’t know why that is. I don’t know if voters just don’t know the importance of these local elections. I don’t know if community outreach needs to be a little bit more. I really don’t know the answer to that.”
This year’s turnout was slightly higher than the roughly 17% turnout for the November 2019 election. Wyandotte County saw turnout peak at 24% in the November 2017 elections for city and school board races.
To try to engage voters before Election Day, Abbott said, the county sends postcards that include the dates and times to vote and residents’ polling locations. The county also offered ballot drop boxes in last year’s presidential election and this year’s local election.
Election officials across Kansas are preparing for the official canvass Tuesday, when results will be certified. Looking ahead, Abbott said the Wyandotte County Election Office is thinking about conducting more community engagement and training regarding elections.
“Going forward, we’d like to do more of a, ‘Hey, this is what we do with election offices. This is why these elections are so important,’” Abbott said. “But it just really depends on COVID and what we can do? But we’ll definitely look at doing something going forward, maybe more voter drives with the community.”