Kansas City, Missouri, bucks trend of big voter turnout gains

Metro counties report spike in ballots cast
KCEB Arrowhead Stadium.jpeg
Posted at 5:07 PM, Nov 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-10 18:07:35-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The largest counties in the Kansas City area reported big spikes in voter turnout for last Tuesday’s general election, but one jurisdiction seemed immune from the increases in voter turnout across the region.

Cass, Clay, Jackson and Platte counties in Missouri, along with Johnson and Leavenworth counties in Kansas, all reported at least 71.9% voter turnout for the 2020 presidential election.

Johnson and Platte counties reported more than 80% turnout of registered voters in the county, but the Kansas City, Missouri, Board of Election Commissioners came up well short of that engagement figure.

Based on unofficial final results, the KCMO Election Board reported less than 60% turnout — a marginal increase from the 2016 presidential election.

KCEB’s Republican Director Shawn Kieffer said after late-arriving military ballots, provisional and auxiliary ballots are accounted for, he expects the final turnout figure to nudge just over 60% when the election is certified next Monday.

Still, the modest 4.3% increase in the number of voters from four years ago — growing from 130,704 in 2016 to 136,314 this year — was paltry compared to the rest of the immediate Kansas City region.

“We expected about 65% (turnout),” Kieffer said. “We thought this election would sort of mirror what 2008 did with Obama’s first run. And it didn’t. It was very similar to what we had in 2016 and 2012 — within just a couple thousand. It was very eerily similar to those elections instead of 2008 like we’d anticipated.”

Kieffer said the election board doesn’t track the demographics of elections, so he wasn’t sure if there were any significant shifts in voting patterns that were obscured by the flat turnout numbers.

Still, the roughly 60% turnout “surprised” Kieffer, who said election officials thought the nice weather would enhance turnout even more.

“The numbers of in-person absentee (voters) surprised us, because we were just so busy the last several weeks,” Kieffer said. “We were voting, probably on average, about 1,000 people a day. It got increasingly more and more as we went on. We expected 20,000 to 25,000 more people on Election Day — and it was a nice day — but they just didn’t show.”

Wyandotte County’s voter turnout through ballots counted last Wednesday evening stood at 67.2% of active registered voters, according to Wyandotte County Commissioner Bruce Newby.

That’s below the other seven counties, but still a significantly higher voter turnout percentage than KCMO.

All seven county election offices, including Wyandotte County, reported a jump of at least 11.8% in voter turnout from the presidential election in 2016.

Leavenworth County led the way with 36,378 ballots cast, an increase of 17.9% from the final official tally of 30,851 for the previous presidential election.

Platte County wasn’t far behind with a 17.7% increase to 58,875 ballots cast in Tuesday’s election.

KCMO saw a less than 4.5% increase.

“I have no idea why,” Kieffer said. “We don’t understand why there was a difference in turnout. We were expecting more, but we just didn’t get it.”

Kieffer and other area election officials are adamant that they’ve seen no evidence of voter fraud or irregularities.

“Voting was pretty straightforward and simple,” Kieffer said. “There’s nothing that we saw on our end.”

The KCMO Election Board said they did receive some duplicate ballots from people who requested a replacement, but they expected and planned for that possibility.

“We keep track of that,” Kieffer said. “We have a computer system that tells us when we receive everybody’s ballot. We did receive some dupes, but we get them every election.”