Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democratic candidate for reelection against Republican nominee Derek Schmidt, greets election worker Virginia Engroff Oct. 25, 2022, at the Shawnee County Election Office in Topeka. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Kansas election official Scott Schwab predicts turnout in the Tuesday general election could hit 53% given absence of an attention-grabbing presidential contest and competitiveness in only a few state and federal races on the ballot.
Schwab, who is up for reelection himself as secretary of state, said 1 million registered Kansans would take part in this November exercise in democracy. That would be down from 1.37 million or 70.9% of the state’s registered voters who participated in 2020, a year in which President Donald Trump pounded Democrat Joe Biden in Kansas but lost the national race.
A more relevant comparison for Kansas would be the off-year election of 2018 when 1.05 million Kansans, or 56.4% of those registered, went to the polls.
In 2022, the barometer of advance voting indicated less excitement than in 2018. The number of requests for advance ballots in Kansas plummeted this year to 154,900 from 193,600 four years ago. Uninspiring candidates, state reform in election laws and evolving attitudes about mail-in and in-person early voting could be factors.
As of Friday, Schwab said, there was a 30,000-vote deficit in mail-in balloting. So far, 91,000 mail ballots had been returned to county election offices. That’s well behind the pace of 122,000 in 2018. However, 191,000 in-person advance votes have been cast so far in the 2022 election. That’s more than the 180,000 in-person advance ballots recorded at this juncture in 2018.
Here are combined totals for advance voting by party affiliation ahead of the Nov. 8 election: Republicans, 137,712; Democrats, 110,691; and unaffiliated, 33,058.
Republicans hold a substantial registration advantage in Kansas. The numbers: Republicans, 883,988; Democrats, 523,317; and unaffiliated, 544,000.
Sustained youth vote?
Turnout watchers know the November general election in Kansas follows the August primary that set a record in terms of voter interest. Heavy turnout was driven by the proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution that, if passed, would have declared women didn’t have a state constitutional right to end a pregnancy. In a blue-state stunner, the amendment failed by more than 172,000 votes.
Patrick Miller, a professor of political science at the University of Kansas, said Kansas voters who had strong opinions for or against Trump two years ago would be back in hefty numbers in 2022. It’s less certain the youthful voters drawn to the abortion issue in the August primary would take part in the November election, he said.
“Younger people are more likely to drop out of the electorate in a midterm election,” said Miller, who indicating their post-primary behavior would be tricky. “That’s not something I think we have any good data to handicap or predict that.”
Kansas voters during the fall campaign have been offered a gubernatorial toss-up showdown between Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt. It’s been sprinkled with the rogue factor of independent state Sen. Dennis Pyle, a conservative striving to move both Schmidt and Kelly to the right.
The rematch in the 3rd congressional district between Democratic U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids and Republican Amanda Adkin, as well as the competition for attorney general between Republican Kris Kobach and Democrat Chris Mann have attracted attention.
There have been few sparks in debate about retention of members of the judiciary and the handful of other statewide or federal offices. This year’s lengthy ballot also features legislative and municipal races that could produce localized voter surges.
“There are many important races on the ballot this election, including two constitutional amendments,” Schwab said.
His reference was to a proposed amendment placing in the Kansas Constitution a requirement that counties elect sheriffs with the exception of Riley County, which has for decades operated a consolidated city and county law enforcement agency. The amendment also would limit removal of a sheriff to recall elections or action by the state attorney general.
The other amendment would grant the Kansas Legislature authority to suspend or veto rules and regulations written by the executive branch to implement state laws.
Alexandra Middlewood, a Wichita State University political science faculty member, said constitutional amendments on state regulation and county sheriffs wouldn’t be magnets for first-time voters, including young women, who registered and expressed their view on abortion rights in August.
“Abortion is not directly on the ballot,” she said. “You are now taking those opinions that people have about a specific issue and trying to translate them into partisan and candidate politics. It’s not a one-to-one matchup. So, we really don’t know how this is going to turn out. And, we won’t know until people show up on Election Day.”
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