BELLE PLAINE, Kan. — Early in-person voting began Wednesday in several Kansas counties, with election officials reporting heavier than usual turnout but relatively short wait times to cast a ballot.
Election offices across the state also began on Wednesday sending out the first batches of mail-in ballots to voters who requested them in what election officials anticipate will be record numbers amid the pandemic.
The state’s most populous counties won’t start advance in-person voting for several more days, but a smattering of smaller counties that have begun are providing an early glimpse of what has been a smooth start to the general election in Kansas.
Between 10 and 14 people were lined up outside each of the four advance in-person voting sites in Douglas County before doors opened Wednesday morning, but voters otherwise did not have to wait to cast a ballot, said Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew.
“We were prepared for an extremely large rush at the beginning,” Shew said. “People are just walking in and voting.”
Douglas County election officials had “bulked up” voter check-in desks with additional poll workers in anticipation of a large turnout based on the phone calls they had been getting and what they were seeing happening in other states.
In Riley County, about 20 people were waiting to vote at the county courthouse before the doors opened for the first day of advance voting, said Riley County Clerk Rich Vargo. They were processed in about five minutes and local election officials have been busier than usual processing a steady stream of voters all day.
Vargo said they have not had lines: “You have to define a line, a five-minute line isn’t really a line.”
The same scene also played out in Hutchinson, where election officials arriving to work found a line of voters that stretched from the front door of the Reno County Annex to the sidewalk for the first day of advance voting. The line had started to form about 20 minutes before the doors were unlocked at 8 a.m., said Jenna Fager, Reno County deputy election officer.
The longest wait time to cast a ballot on Wednesday morning in Reno County was probably around 15 minutes, and it has been busier than usual for the first day of voting, she said.
“I think they are just wanting to go ahead and get it out of the way, get it taken care of so they don’t have to worry about it,” Fager said.
Some Reno County voters who couldn’t wait for their advance ballots to arrive in the mail showed up to vote in-person, Fager said. Those voters were given a provisional ballot .
That also happened in Douglas and Riley counties, where more than the usual number of people were voting provisional ballots in-person because they didn’t want to wait to receive the ballots they had requested earlier. Some were concerned about slow mail delivery.
“People will get ballots in a timely manner if they are just patient and so that has caused some extra paperwork and it is something we just have to deal with,” Vargo said. “Since they are going to get a ballot mailed to them, the only way we can process it is through a provisional ballot. That way nobody can vote twice.”
Kansas law allows voters to take their mail-in ballots to election drop boxes, to advance voting locations, or to polling sites on Election Day if they do not want put them in the mail.