Election day was a big one for Riley County Republicans. But the remainder of the just-concluded election period was huge for Riley County Democrats.
One of the clearest trends to emerge from the vote-counting Wednesday was a tendency for Democrats here to dominate advance voting while Republicans tended to wait until the actual polls opened before casting their ballots. There were seven contested races on Tuesday’s ballot, and in every one of them the Democratic candidate did eight to 10 percentage points better among those who cast ballots in advance than among those who waited until election day.
The results were precisely reversed for Republicans.
Does the advance ballot process — which this year saw polls open here in mid-October —for some reason favor Democrats?
Kathryn Focke, chair of the county Democratic Party, believes the pattern largely reflects hard work. “We call all our Democrats prior to election day to encourage them to advance vote,” she said. The party this year sent out more than 300 requests for advance ballots to Democrats, then followed up to make sure the ballots were returned. “On Tuesday evening we went out and picked up several and turned them in to the county clerk before (the) 7 p.m. (deadline),” she noted.
Top Republican officials hadn’t come to a consensus explanation for the trend, but some speculated that Democrats were better organized in that regard. County Clerk Rich Vargo had yet another explanation: geography. Vargo believes a disproportionate amount of the advance vote comes from the city of Manhattan, site of the only two advance voting locations in the county — one at the courthouse, the other at the K-State Union. And, he adds, in-city registration is more Democratic than elsewhere in the county. “It’s mostly the city that votes in advance,” Vargo said. “It’s more convenient for them to do so.”
Whatever the reason, the trend seems clear from the data. In the voting for president, for example, Mitt Romney carried the county overall with 54.6 percent of the vote. But among those who voted in advance, Barack Obama actually won 49.2-48.5 percent. Considering only election-day voters, Romney won 57.3-38.8 percent. That means Romney did 8.8 percentage points better among Tuesday voters, while Obama fared 10.4 percentage points worse.
A similar pattern held all the way down the ballot. Democrat Tom Hawk out-polled Republican Bob Reader 54-46 percent in Riley County for the 22nd District Senate seat. But Hawk only carried election-day voters by 51-49 percent; his secret lay in a 60-40 percent advantage among those who cast ballots in advance.
In the 6th District Board of Education race, Republican Deena Horst beat Democrat Carol Viar here by 54-46. But among those who voted in advance, Viar beat Horst 52.8-47 percent. On election day, Horst walloped Viar 56.7-43 percent.
In the race for the 3rd District seat on the Riley County Commission, Democrat Rod Harms led Republican Ron Wells 52.3-47.7 percent when advance ballots were counted. But Wells carried the election because he won more than 58 percent of the vote among those voting on Tuesday.
The trend of Democratic dominance in advance voting is consequential because this year more than 18 percent of all voters cast ballots in advance. The effort to encourage advance voting followed the 2000 presidential election, which was marked by extremely long election-day lines. In 2004, nearly 4,000 of the county’s eventual 21,000 voters cast ballots in advance. Democrat John Kerry, seeking to deny George Bush a second term, won 42.5 percent of those advance voters, a number that was about 5.7 percentage points better than the 36.8 percent he got among those who voted on election day.
In the 2006 race for governor, incumbent Democrat Kathleen Sebelius won 63.7 percent of the vote among advance voters, but just 60.8 percent among election-day voters. In 2008, Obama carried 53.3 percent of advance voters here, even though he polled just 45 percent overall against Republican John McCain and just 40 percent on election day. Participation in advance voting peaked that year with 9,203 ballots cast ahead of election day, 38 percent of the eventual total.
In the 2010 race for governor, Democrat Tom Holland won only 37 percent of the vote overall, but got 41.3 percent of the advance vote. About 23 percent of all votes were cast in advance in 2010.