With COVID-19, 2020 Primary Election taking different shape

Nearly 315,000 ballots have been sent to Kansas voters by mail.
Published: Aug. 2, 2020 at 10:29 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Election day is coming up quick for the Kansas primary, although many Kansas voters have already cast their ballots by mail.

The Kansas Secretary of State is expecting voter turnout to reach 28%.

“COVID-19 both changes the logistics of campaigning and changes what you’re campaigning about,” Chair of the Political Science Department at Wichita State University Dr. Neal Allen said. “A lot of the things campaigns tried to do, like going door-to-door don’t work as well but however, they need to talk about COVID-19 because it’s causing so many difficult decisions.”

In an election cycle reimagined by a pandemic, voters and voter booths are also changing their habits.

The Kansas Secretary of State office said that all polling places are equipped with plexiglass dividers, masks, and sanitizer. The process is being made as touchless as possible.

While voters are encouraged to wear masks, they are not required to vote.

However, some people are checking the boxes without leaving their home to vote by mail.

“Easy, conveniently and then just the safety of the poll workers. I know traditionally, where I go to vote, it’s a lot of older poll workers and those sorts of things. They don’t need to be out dealing with everybody and everyone,” said Brandy Willett, who voted by mail in the primary and will do the same for the general election.

Willett isn’t alone.

As of Friday, the Kansas Secretary of State office said 314,788 ballots have been sent out to voters by mail and 159,012 have been returned so far.

“We should be careful about saying on election night that we know who has won or who has lost because not only is the vote going to come in later,” Dr. Allen said. “It won’t necessarily be representative on election night of what the whole vote is because some candidates will probably do better in in-person voting and some candidates will do better in mail-in voting and we really don’t have an idea of how that’s going to work in the Republican primary. In the general election, we can be pretty clear that Democrats are going to vote more by mail and Republicans are going to vote more in-person.”

It also can make a difference for campaigns.

“This race has been going on for a couple of weeks at least and there’s a possibility that the majority of votes have already been cast, so it makes last-minute interventions less useful and consequential,” said Dr. Allen. “So, for example, even if President Trump would endorse a Senate candidate on Monday or on Tuesday morning, that’s going to have a lot less impact than it would in a normal year.”

It’s as several key primary races have taken a negative turn. One of the more contentious contests is for the open Kansas U.S. Senate seat.

“Kobach still has a strong appeal to Republican base voters. His campaign is running campaign advertisements probably at a better clip than what Kobach as done previously. His fundraising as a candidate still isn’t terribly good, but he’s benefiting from lots of outside groups that are running lots of advertisements,” said Dr. Allen.

He added, “Roger Marshall is having lots of national groups helping him. Even some Democratic groups seem to be coming into the race, trying to hurt Marshall and help Kobach.”

In the big First, Dr. Allen said the race has turned more competitive then initially thought.

“The big first primary is interesting. It looked for the longest time like it wouldn’t be competitive, and Tracy Mann would win a landslide victory. Clifford from Garden City at least has electoral experience. Frankly, I’m a little surprised that allies of the Mann campaign have gone as negative as they have, particularly bringing up issues involving Somalis and other kinds of immigrants in Garden City,” Dr. Allen said, “but, politics is just very conflictual these days. Whoever wins the Republican primary will be guaranteed a victory in the fall. The Democrats really don’t have a lot of support out in western Kansas.”

One thing candidates and voters have to agree with is COVID-19 is part of this election.

“I’m looking at people who really care about doing the right thing. I don’t care at all about party. It’s all about, are you really going to move things forward and take care of people,” Willett said.

Copyright 2020 KWCH. All rights reserved.

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