As absentee/early voting numbers soar, metro volunteers get set for big Election Day crowds

KANSAS CITY - Voting stations across the metro area continued to see big crowds for early and in-person absentee voting on Thursday, just five days before Election Day.

The Johnson County Electoral Commission described turnout as "unprecedented," with over 100,000 people casting in-person ballots so far.

Election officers in Wyandotte and Jackson counties also reported strong early and absentee voting, with levels expected to pass those seen for the 2008 presidential election.

"There were two or three people in line outside the building and then another four or five inside," said Steven Davis, who cast an absentee ballot with his wife in Independence on Thursday. "I was surprised at how many people were out here." 

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A rather large line was seen outside the absentee voting station in Independence Square, but voters said the line moved quickly.

"I wasn't going to be in town so I needed to come down here and put my vote in," explained Latona Hollins. "A lot of people just want to make sure they get their voices heard."

With Election Day drawing closer, volunteers continued to train for the big day on Thursday.

At the Jackson County Election Board office, around two-dozen volunteers went over important steps during a training session.

The county expects lines to be very long next Tuesday, and election officers wanted the volunteers to continue to get ready to handle the crowds. 

"Are some voters going to get upset about polls being closed and they see 50 people about to check in? Probably," explained the trainer leading the session with volunteers.

With polls closing at 7 p.m. on Election Day, Jackson County Election Board Director Tammy Brown said some of the volunteers will be tasked with having to turn away late arrivals.

"They draw straws or flip a coin probably to see who has to go do that job," said Brown, who has helped oversee three previous presidential elections in the area. "You stay calm, hopefully they'll stay calm. But it doesn't always happen that way."

Brown explained how police have had to be called out to respond to incidents at the polls in years past.

She hopes 2016 will be different.

"It is tough when you have people screaming at you all day long, whether it's your fault or their fault," she said. "Some people don't take it all that well. We just have to do the best we can with them and keep them from disrupting other voters."

With large crowds and long lines expected on Election Day, Brown said volunteers are ready for a grueling experience.

"It could be a late night for everybody across the state," she said. "If we have an 80 percent turnout, it's going to be a very long night and morning."

Polls open at 6 a.m. on Election Day next week. Voting lines will be cut off at 7 p.m. If a voter is in line at 7 p.m., they will be able to cast their ballot no matter the wait time.

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Tom Dempsey can be reached at Tom.Dempsey@KSHB.com.

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