COVID-19 and Elections: Trends in Advance Voting

As the coronavirus pandemic threatens the health of Kansas communities and forces widespread disruptions to daily life, this crisis will also have profound implications for our elections.

Making sure voters can continue to make their voices heard if this crisis continues or recurs should be top of mind for policymakers and election administrators across the country.

Given the social distancing measures in place to public health, the COVID-19 pandemic is sure to increase the importance and prevalence of voting by mail.

Looking at trends in advance voting in Kansas, we found wide geographic variation when it comes to the percentage of voters who vote before election day.

Kansas is among the two-thirds of states that allow any qualified voter to vote absentee by simple preference, without offering a valid excuse.

Any voter registered in Kansas can vote by mail or in-person prior to Election Day by requesting an advance ballot application. Ballots must be postmarked on or before Election Day, or be hand-delivered by close of polls on Election Day.

By analyzing official turnout data published by the Kansas Secretary of State for general elections 2006 – 2018, we see that presidential elections tend to have the highest advanced voter turnout.

But there is extreme geographic variation in Kansas in terms of advanced voter turnout, with some counties nearing 60% participation and others having turnouts as low as 5%:

 

The above graph takes each county’s maximum advanced voter turnout between general elections 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2018. Compared to their minimums for the same time period. For most counties this peak occurred in 2016.

Looking in more detail at the advanced turnout rates among the five most active counties and the five least active counties, we can see a nearly six-fold difference in the percentage of voters who utilize advanced voting.

Given the disruptions caused by the coronavirus, this year it will be even more important for candidates, officials, and organizations to educate voters about how to vote by mail. 

The first election to be impacted by the coronavirus will be the May 2nd Democratic presidential primary. (the Republican presidential primary has been cancelled). The May 2nd primary is a “party run” election, as opposed to the normal county ran elections. As such only Kansans who are registered as Democrats will be able to participate. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Kansas Democratic Party has moved to 100% vote by mail for May 2nd. Ballots will be mailed to all registered democrats starting March 30th and must be returned by May 2nd to count. For more information, contact the Kansas Democratic Party.

The coronavirus has the potential to reshape many aspects of American life, and voting will certainly be one of them. We’ll continue to monitor these trends and keep our readers apprised on what the data shows about the civic health of Kansas communities.