Kansas primary recorded unprecedented volume of votes

In post-election audit, 82 of 105 counties match election night results

Secretary of State Scott Schwab convenes a meeting Friday of the state canvassing board to certify the primary election results. More than 636,000 Kansans voted in the 2020 primary. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Nearly 150,000 more Kansans turned out to vote in this year’s primary than ever before, including an unprecedented surge from mail-in ballots.

Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab, Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Gov. Laura Kelly convened as the state’s canvassing board Friday to certify results from 636,032 votes.

That figure tops the previous high-water marks of about 487,000 two years ago and 488,000 in 2004. The 34.2% of registered voters who took part in the primary exceeds the 20-27% who participated in primaries over the past decade.

Kansas voters turned in 261,180 ballots by mail and cast 51,664 ballots in advance in person. Another 323,188 showed up on Election Day.

Schwab’s office praised the efforts of county election officials who handled both unprecedented turnout and challenges presented by the coronavirus.

“Under normal circumstances, local election officials have a difficult task and the uncertainty with COVID-19 only compounded their challenges,” the secretary of state’s office said in its canvass report. “However, they rose to the challenge and were steadfast in their diligence to successfully administer the 2020 primary election amidst a global pandemic.”

The report also said the primary demonstrates the state election system’s ability to handle an expected surge in mail-in ballots for the general election, as well.

The state received $2.6 million in emergency federal funding to reimburse counties for election expenses related to COVID-19, including the cost of mailing applications for advanced ballots. Counties also used funds to increase pay for election workers and purchase ballot-counting machines. About $1 million was spent on personal protective equipment.

The secretary of state’s office also oversaw random auditing of election results across the state’s 105 counties. Under Kansas statute, each county audits one local, state and federal race.

Audits in 82 counties produced results that matched the tallies from election night. The other 23 counties had “minor, explainable discrepancies,” according to the state report. Those discrepancies included voters marking an oval too lightly for a machine to read.

Comanche County produced unexplained discrepancies in its original audit, but a second audit matched election night results.