More Kansan voters turned out than usual at Douglas County polls in a historic midterm race, Douglas County Election officials said.
Polls showed the race was consistently tight between Democratic gubernatorial candidate Laura Kelly and Republican candidate Kris Kobach before election day, but following Tuesday’s election, Kelly emerged victorious. With mass efforts by campus and local groups to up voter turnout, many organizations believe young voters were part of the reason Kelly won.
Jamie Shew, a Douglas County clerk, said about 47,000 people voted in Douglas County on Tuesday, which is close to the 50,000 average votes during a presidential election. On average, an estimated 39,000 people vote in-person on midterms.
“I will tell that just by looking at the numbers, college students was extremely high for a midterm. It doubled,” Shew said.
However, official data from the Douglas County Elections Office will not be out for a few more days, Shew said.
Amy Schumacher-Rutherford, a Ph.D. student in the University’s communications department, has done a number of non-partisan initiatives to get more people registered to vote over the past months. Schumacher-Rutherford said the results were “very exciting.”
“It’s incredibly validating. There were so many people out there pushing to get people to vote,” Schumacher-Rutherford said. “We were all so passionate about it, and the fact that people took that on their own and that they showed up — it’s very exciting.”
Schumacher-Rutherford said she hopes this turnout is just a starting point for voters in Kansas.
“People showed up now, and we can’t lose this enthusiasm,” Schumacher-Rutherford said. “We’ve got to keep showing up.”
After her victory speech last night in Topeka, Kelly acknowledged the KU Young Democrats organization in the crowd when she said, “Look at my young people.” Her acknowledgement was met with cheers from those in attendance.
Nick Hinman, a sophomore from Olathe, was a campus organizer over the course of the fall 2018 semester on behalf of the Kansas Democratic Party. Following Kelly’s victory, Hinman was in disbelief at the watch party, he said.
Hinman said University students had a critical role in Governor-elect Kelly’s victory.
“What can students anticipate [from Kelly’s win]? Hope," Hinman said. "I mean like a feeling that they’re not living in place that hates them. A feeling that they actually have control over what’s going on. A feeling that their voice matters — because KU students did this.”