Whether part of a blue wave or red wall, Johnson County and Jackson County residents are signing up to vote in historic numbers, as Missouri and Kansas registration deadlines draw near.
“We actually have a record number of registered voters in Johnson County right now,” Nathan Carter, the county’s Election Office administrator, said Tuesday. “It’s the highest registration we’ve had for any election.”
The number as of Tuesday in Johnson County: 413,276 registered voters, including about 110,600 Democrats, 186,300 Republicans and 111,800 registering as unaffiliated. The number is expected to rise before the Oct. 16 deadline to vote in Kansas for the Nov. 6 midterms.
The deadline in Missouri is Wednesday, Oct. 10.
“I would not be surprised that now that we have a Republican in power, more Democratic areas might see some of that energy in new voter registration,” said Patrick Miller, a political scientist at the University of Kansas. “People might be registering because they’re reacting to the national environment.”
Republicans, meanwhile, have said they are counting on a boost from the recent fiery debate over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who was sworn in this week.
The overall number of registered voters in Johnson County is more than for any other midterm or presidential election, Carter said.
The figure is some 48,000 more than registered to vote in the 2008 presidential election pitting Barack Obama against John McCain and in 2012, when Obama faced Mitt Romney. It’s more than the 407,550 in 2016 when Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton.
Wyandotte County has also seen a spike, with some 82,370 registrations already above the more than 79,000 seen in 2016.
Part of the reason may be that the ballots in eastern Kansas will be filled with close contests: the governor’s race involving Democrat Laura Kelly, Republican Kris Kobach and independent Greg Orman, as well as congressional races pitting Republican incumbent Kevin Yoder against Democrat Sharice Davids in the 3rd District and Democrat Paul Davis facing Republican Steve Watkins in the 2nd District.
Cille King, a co-president of the League of Women Voters of Kansas, suggests that higher registration numbers could also be tied to a federal judge striking down a Kansas voter citizenship law earlier this year. That law, championed by Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, required people to prove they were U.S. citizens to register to vote.
“We know that blocked thousands of people from registering to vote, and this year we don’t have that requirement anymore,” King said.
In Jackson County, whose numbers don’t include Kansas City, Tuesday’s 226,220 was on a pace to go beyond the 230,465 registered for the November 2016 Trump/Clinton presidential race.
“I just talked to one of our registration people and they just downloaded another 500 from the secretary of state today. So they’re coming in hot and heavy every day,” said Tammy Brown, a director of the Jackson County Board of Election Commissioners.
Brown said that on Thursday, she and another director are set to drive and pick up at least 4,000 more registrations from sites around eastern Jackson County.
In Kansas City proper, past and present numbers are difficult to compare because of more recent and accurate ways of canvassing actual active voters. But Shawn Kieffer, a director of elections for the Kansas City Election Board, said that Kansas City — with 223,000 voters registered so far — may also be on pace to equal and possibly surpass the recent high of 231,000 who registered for Obama’s first election in 2008.
Whether statewide number reach new heights is yet to be determined. On Tuesday, some 4.17 million Missouri residents had so far registered to vote, short of the 4.22 million who registered in 2016. Registrations were still being collected, counted and verified.
In Kansas, about 1.8 million residents had registered, but “that number is changing every second,” said Bryan Caskey, director of elections for the Kansas secretary of state’s office.
“I expect we will set a record for a non-presidential election year at a minimum,” Caskey said.
The number, in fact, is already more than the number registered in Kansas for the 2018 primary, and larger than those registered for the presidential elections of 2016, 2012 and 2008.
What matters more, however, is whether people who register actually turn up at the polls. Midterm elections historically prompt a significantly lower voter turnout than presidential election years.
Miller of KU cautions not to read too much into increased registration, calling it just “one tea leaf” in reading a future election. Voters’ preferences can change from the time they initially register.
“If party registration were that important then Hillary Clinton should have won West Virginia, and Trump should have been competitive in Vermont,” Miller said.
Typically, he said, when Republicans are in power, registrations increase on the side of Democrats and vice versa. It is an indicator of how new voters, not all voters, are affecting the electorate.
“It is definitely not the end all or be all” Miller said, “or necessarily the best predictor of what is going to happen in an election.”
Are you registered?
▪ In Missouri, the last day to register to vote is Oct. 10. Registration status can be checked at www.sos.mo.gov/elections/govotemissouri.
▪ In Kansas, the last day to register is Oct. 16. Check status at https://myvoteinfo.voteks.org/VoterView/RegistrantSearch.do.
Contact your local elections office for details on how to register.