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Voters In Missouri And Kansas Head To The Polls Despite Coronavirus Fears

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Carlos Moreno
Voters line up outside Chapel Lakes Elementary School in Lee’s Summit on Tuesday afternoon. Masks, hand sanitizer, social distancing and free stylus pens were the order of the day. One candidate’s proxy was even handing out tiny personal packets of sanitizer wipes to voters with her candidate’s name glued to the foil packet.

Officials expect to see higher turnout in this primary than in previous years.

Kansas and Missouri voters headed to the polls today to cast their primary ballots amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Many voters in Kansas took advantage of mail-in and absentee ballot options this year as a preventive measure against the virus.

But Kansas City, Kansas, native Victoria Owen says she’s been voting at her polling location for 30 years, and this time is no exception.

“It's the same experience,” she says. “They've always done the clean thing, you but they're a little bit cleaner now because of what’s going on now,” says Owen.

She says the most important race for her was for Wyandotte County District Attorney where the current DA, Mark Dupree, is being challenged by Jackson County assistant prosecutor Kristiane Bryant.

“I need more transparency. I need the deals to stop being made for violent crimes. I don't need you to make the deal with them, I need them to pay for the crime that they did,” says Owen.

Some voters see the Kansas Senate race as a chance to make a national impact with their ballot ahead of the November election.

“This is the first time in my entire life I'm voting for all Democrats, and not because I like all the Democrats either,” said Overland Park resident Shan Longmore.

Rep. Roger Marshall, former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, and Democratic frontrunner Barbara Bollier are among several candidates competing to succeed the retiring Sen. Pat Roberts.

Kansas Rep. Sharice Davids has drawn five Republican challengers following her first-term.

On the Missouri side, voters are deciding on the expansion of eligibility in the state’s Medicaid program to include people with higher incomes who may be healthy.

Republican lawmakers have fended off expansion in the state legislature for years, but some voters, like Kansas Citian Quenton Leeks, say it's time that it passes through. “It's part of the Affordable Care Act, and just something I feel like should be expanded for people that need care,” Leeks said.

Other Missouri voters didn’t have a particular issue on the ballot to motivate them to go to the polls today, and still decided it was worth the health risk.

“It’s a civic blessing and responsibility, kind of a combination thereof. No particular issue other than I try to always vote,” said Vic Borden from Kansas City.

Those on both sides of the state line saw shorter lines than previous years, but thought that could be a good thing while trying to socially distance at the polls.

Kansas City voter Rita Berry said she was impressed with the safety precautions in place at the polls.

“It was very professional, they were wiping down things and they gave everybody a different stylus or a pencil to use. They were meeting all the guidelines,” said Berry.

The Kansas City Election Board says while there may be fewer people at the physical polls, the Missouri primary seems to be drawing more voters.

“In 2016 and 2018, it was generally around a 17% turnout in both those elections,” said Kansas City Election Board Director Shawn Kieffer. “Today we're expecting a 25% turnout.”

He says part of the increase in turnout is because of the popularity of mail-in ballots this year.

The Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office says it plans to monitor for any voting irregularities. Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker announced on Monday they’ll watch for potential concerns, such as voter fraud or abuse of voters’ rights.

Polls in both Missouri and Kansas will be open until 7 p.m.

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
Bill Grady has worked in Kansas City media for decades, reporting on local issues including city government, police and the fire department.
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