No county told the story of the 2014 mid-term elections more effectively for Kansas Democrats than Wyandotte County.
The county, a Democratic bastion, reported a turnout of just 35.4 percent on Nov. 4.
That was a big drop from the 39.4 percent turnout from the last midterm in 2010, the 39.3 percent turnout in the 2006 midterm and the 44.7 percent in the midterm of 2002.
In other words, it was a very poor showing for Democrats who went into the election convinced that their get-out-the-vote operation was far improved over previous statewide elections.
Jason Perkey, executive director of the Kansas Democratic Party, didn’t have an answer.
“I don’t know,” he said. “We did everything in Kansas, and Democrats did everything across the country, that we knew how to do.”
Besides losing control of the U.S. Senate on election day, Democrats in Kansas saw Paul Davis go down to defeat against incumbent Republican Sam Brownback by 4 points — 50-46 percent. Davis had led in most polls heading into election day, suggesting that pollsters also anticipated a larger Democratic turnout.
Across Kansas, turnout was down 0.7 percent compared to 2010, Perkey said. In Wyandotte County, turnout was off by more than 5 percent.
For Democrats, particularly, low mid-term election turnouts have become a major issue. For example, in 2012, which was a presidential election year, Wyandotte County turnout topped 60 percent. It topped 70 percent in 2008, the year Barack Obama was first elected president.
The 2014 showing was so bad that Davis, who was in a competitive race with Brownback, actually received 838 fewer votes than 2010 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tom Holland, who was not viewed as competitive against Brownback that year.
“There are people all across America trying to understand why voters don’t vote in mid-term elections,” Perkey said.
With all the TV ads in the various races, WyCo voters knew a race was going on, he said. Get-out-the-vote volunteers knocked on doors in the country. Former President Bill Clinton made an automated telephone call to WyCo voters.
Some Democrats pointed to a lack of outreach to specific constituent groups, such as women under 45, Latinos and African Americans, although tailored mailings were sent to those households as well.
Kansas Democrats are awaiting the findings of a report due to the state party in mid-December that may contain more answers. Meantime, the head-scratching continues.