Voter turnout for U.S. presidential elections is on an upswing. Voter trends suggest an almost 60 percent voter turnout for the upcoming November elections, numbers not seen for 50 years. Are Kiowa County residents following suit?
County election records from 50 years ago, 25 years ago and more recent elections do show a steady increase in national election participation, but they also show consistently low turnout for smaller local elections.
In 1962 there were a number of elections including an Aug. 7 primary election and a Nov. 16 election for state and local officials.
Voters in Greensburg, which was part of the Center Township before consolidation in 1981, cast an estimated 310 total ballots in an Aug. 7, 1962 primary election which included contests for state attorney, state auditor and attorney general as well as local elections for county clerk and county treasurer and district court judge.
With an estimated population of 1,988 people only about 16 percent of eligible Greensburg residents voted in the primary.
Voters in the Martin Township, which included Mullinville and surrounding areas cast 65 votes, making up 16 percent of eligible voters.
The Wellsford Township, which included Haviland and Wellsford cast 159 votes, aprox. 22 percent of their estimated population.
Overall about 720 votes were cast in the primary making up only 15.5 percent of the 4,626 eligible county voters.
The general election on Nov. 6 of that same year had a much higher turnout for the national, state and local contests.
Bob Dole won a hotly contested 1st District congressional election with a 1084-731 win and Frank Peters beat out Jack Pyle for the 1st District Kiowa County Commissioner seat with a 369-71 win.
An estimated 1,815 county voters went to the polls, accounting for 39 percent of eligible county voters.
Forty-five percent of Greensburg residents voted with a total of 889 ballots cast of the estimated 1,988 residents in the Center Township. Mullinville residents came out in strong numbers casting 218 estimated ballots, accounting for 56 percent of eligible residents in the Martin Township. Haviland residents, inside of the Wellsford Township cast 314 votes, accounting for 43 percent of eligible voters.
Voter turnout for national elections in 1962, which did not include a presidential race, was 47 percent.
An April 7, 1987 election brought out voters in Haviland and Mullinville for mayoral and city council elections.
Lyle Rader won the Mullinville mayoral contest handily with 96 percent, getting 121 of the 126 votes cast. In 1990 Mullinville had a population of 289 people. Forty-three percent of eligible voters came to the polls.
Warren Frankhauser won the Haviland mayoral election with 87 percent of the vote taking 128 of the 147 ballots cast. With a population of 624 people, only 23 percent of eligible voters came out to elect their mayor.
That same year on Sept. 22 the Greensburg Unified School District 422 held a special election asking voters to approve a $765,000 bond to build a new gymnasium. Greensburg residents voted down the measure with a 356-406 vote.
Page 2 of 3 - The 1990 U.S. Census has Greensburg’s population at 1,792 people. With 762 total votes, 42 percent of eligible residents cast ballots in the election.
Combining the three contests, with all townships having local elections, a total of 1,035 voters cast ballots in 1987 elections. With an estimated population of 3,660, county elections records show a 28 percent voter turnout in 1987 elections.
National election numbers in 1986 and 1988 had 36 percent and 50 percent turnout, respectively.
A November 2010 statewide election, which saw the election of current representatives Tim Huelskamp and Jerry Moran as well as Sam Brownback saw a strong turnout.
An estimated 1,056 county residents cast ballots, accounting for 43 percent of eligible voters. Greensburg cast 453 votes (58 percent of eligible voters), Haviland cast 358 votes (50 percent) and Mullinville cast 210 votes with a whopping 82 percent of resident casting votes.
The ballot also included a number of high profile initiatives including the “County Liquor by Drink” measure, which passed 619-406, the disorganization of the Mullinville school district, which passed 159-31 and the reelection run of Greensburg native Dennis McKinney who won Kiowa County, but lost statewide to current Kansas State Treasurer Ron Estes.
An April 5, 2011 election, with school and hospital board, Haviland mayor and city council, and Mullinville mayor and city council vacancies saw low poll numbers.
County residents cast 341 total votes, accounting for 13.3 percent of eligible voters.
Greensburg residents cast 128 total votes (16 percent of eligible voters), Haviland cast 135 votes (19 percent) and Mullinville cast 83 total votes, casting more relative ballots than any other city, with 32 percent.
The Mullinville city council and mayoral elections likely caused an increase in voter turnout, although a similar election in Haviland saw very low numbers. Greensburg voters cast almost as many votes as Haviland though there were no Greensburg city elections.
The national elections in 2010 had a 37.8 percent voter turnout.
This data, though a small sample, shows an increase in voter turnout overall but with a reduction of voter turnout for localized city and county elections. Especially the elections that fall outside of a national election year.
“These are almost universalistic trends all across the country,” said Chapman Rackaway Associate Professor of Political Science at Fort Hays State University. “We pay much more attention to national media and therefore we pay more attention to national races. [Media outlets] cover a presidential race and some congressional and senatorial races, but they are not going to pay attention to Greensburg or Hays, they pay attention to the national stuff.”
Rackaway also said that voters can feel disengaged from politics and can buy into rhetoric that politics are too negative and that all politicians are disconnected from their constituents, even at a local level.
“They say to themselves ‘well if I don’t have a voice or if my vote doesn’t matter or if I can’t make any substantive changes at the ballot box, why go through the effort of becoming informed, getting engaged and getting to the polls?’” added Rackaway.
Page 3 of 3 - The election data also showed a high voter turnout from Mullinville residents and Martin Township voters. Sometimes the voter turnout was 20-40 percent higher than other county townships.
“I have no idea why more people in Mullinville would vote in higher numbers,” laughed longtime Mullinville resident and Merchant’s Directory Publisher Paul Kendall. “It might have been because they wanted to vote againstsomeone.”