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Voter turnout in the Kansas City region dropped by double digits since the last midterm election

Two people sit at long tables, bent over while they write. In foreground are cardboard dividers that are printed with a waving American flag and read "Vote Here"
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Voters at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Kansas City, Missouri, cast their ballots Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 8, 2022.

Midterms typically attract fewer voters than presidential races, but fewer people voted on Tuesday than in the 2018 midterm election. In some parts of the metro, turnout was lower than in the August primary.

Fewer people turned out to vote around the Kansas City metro than in the previous midterm election.

Election officials in Kansas City, Missouri, Jackson and Clay counties in Missouri and Johnson County, Kansas, all reported on their websites that turnout was down by more than 10% from 2018. Platte County had the smallest decrease, with 7% fewer voters showing up to vote.

In Wyandotte County, Kansas, the list of registered voters grew by more than 9,000. Despite that increase, turnout was down by more than 14%.

Michael Abbott, the election commissioner for Wyandotte County, said the county had an unusually high turnout during the Aug. 2 primary. Typically, anywhere from 9-20% of voters in Wyandotte County participate in the primaries, he said. But with Kansas’ proposed constitutional amendment on abortion on that ballot, more than 36% turned up to the polls, Abbott said.

Abbott said he had been hopeful that momentum would carry over to the general election.

“Honestly I thought we were going to hit at least 50% the way the early voting was going,” Abbott said. “But Election Day wasn't what we were expecting. And I really don't know the answer to it. I don't know if it's because everybody came out so heavy in the primary they decided not to show up in the general — I really don't know.”

Election officials in Kansas City, Clay County and Johnson County could not be immediately reached for comment.

Ten percent fewer voters in Jackson County outside of Kansas City, Missouri, came out on Tuesday compared to 2018.

“Only having 56% turnout was kind of disappointing,” said Tammy Brown, a director of the Jackson County Election Board.

“The in-person, no-excuse (voting), I mean, we were slammed in that two weeks,” she said. “And (Tuesday) was a busy election day. But when a little over only half the voters show up, you have to wonder why aren't they getting out and voting?”

While election officials hope for a large turnout, Brown said, they usually expect something much lower.

“I've been doing this 20 years,” she said. “If it's not a presidential election, midterms aren't usually a big draw, and off-year elections aren't a big draw. I don't know if it's voter apathy, I don’t know why people don't take the time to vote.”

People sit at long tables, bent over while they write. Scattered around them are cardboard dividers that are printed with a waving American flag and read "Vote Here."
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Voters at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Kansas City, Missouri cast their ballot Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 8, 2022.

Brown said other county clerks and election boards across Missouri were also reporting turnout in the low 50 percentages.

This was the first election in which Missouri voters were required to show a valid, government-issued photo ID. That law was not in effect during the August primary. Opponents of the new law said it makes it harder for students, elderly and disabled people, and others without the means to get or renew their IDs to vote.

The law also restricted how civic groups could engage with voters, prohibiting “soliciting” a voter to apply for an absentee ballot and requiring anyone who helps with more than 10 voter registrations to be a registered voter and to register with the state.

In Kansas, a 2021 law made it illegal to deliver more than 10 advance voting ballots on behalf of other voters. Another Kansas law requires voters to have a residential address meeting certain requirements in order to be registered to vote.

Opponents of such laws said they make it harder for people and civic organizations to help disabled people, who often live in community settings, cast their votes.

Voting-rights groups also said newly drawn districts were racially biased and gerrymandered in favor of Republicans. The northern part of Wyandotte County was broken off from Kansas’ 3rd Congressional district in the 2021 redistricting process. However, the Kansas Supreme Court deemed the congressional map legal under the state's constitution.

Still, Wyandotte County's Abbott said his office does its best to inform and encourage people to vote.

“We send out postcards to everybody that has their exact polling location or early voting times and dates,” Abbott said. “It's a bright yellow postcard. We send out a letter, which has an application and all the important dates and facts of voting in Wyandotte County to every household.”

When news breaks, it can be easy to rely on officials and people in power to get information fast. As KCUR’s general assignment and breaking news reporter, I want to bring you the human faces of the day’s biggest stories. Whether it’s a local shop owner or a worker on the picket line, I want to give you the stories of the real people who are driving change in the Kansas City area. Email me at savannahhawley@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @savannahhawley.
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