The November presidential election is expected to drive more voters to the polls than previous elections, and with the coronavirus pandemic adding obstacles for voters, Douglas County elections officials had to adapt to make voting safe and accessible for everyone.
In Douglas County, the August primary election saw a record number of voter turnout for a primary election, said Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew. He expects similar record breaking numbers in the November general election.
“In August, we pretty much broke every record we had for [voter turnout in] a primary,” Shew said. “I think we’re looking at the same in November.”
Douglas County saw a significant spike in voters using advanced mail ballots over traditional in-person voting options. More than six times the number of mail-in ballots were used this year compared to years past, Shew said.
Student organizations at the University of Kansas, such as KU Young Democrats and ACLU of KU, are urging people to vote by mail.
“We're generally going to be pushing vote by mail to everybody," KU Young Democrats President Meredith Shaheed said. "It's easy, it's reliable, and it's convenient for college students who might still feel uncertain about where they're going to be on Election Day."
Nationwide, there is concern about the Postal Service’s ability to deliver election mail on time. Douglas County doesn’t expect a delay caused by the Postal Service, but Shew still said voters shouldn’t wait until the last minute to send their ballots back.
Because of the pandemic, Douglas County had to reduce the number of polling places across the county.
“Normally we have about 60 polling places. We lost 16,” Shew said. “That is the lowest number we have ever had.”
The ACLU of KU urged election officials to increase accessibility to voting for students by adding ballot dropboxes on campus. Shew said that is something the county is looking to add.
Before the pandemic, the majority of poll workers were older people. Now, others in the community are stepping up to staff the polling locations.
“We’ve talked with University groups and are trying to recruit younger poll workers,” Shew said. “A lot of University groups and students are hesitating [to sign up as poll workers] because they don’t know if they will still be on campus in November.”
A common message among student organizations at KU and elections officials was to vote.
“People need to do research on their city and county officials to make educated votes on those positions as well,” KU College Republicans President Paige Harding said.
In Kansas, eligible voters can register to vote in the general election at ksvotes.org by Oct. 13.