JoCo’s increase in registered voters in 2020 driven by 41% increase among Democrats

Johnson County saw a 12% growth in voter registration since October 2016. Much of that growth comes from voters who registered with the Democratic Party, with a 41% increase in the number of voters registered as Democrats compared with October 2016. File photo.

The population of registered Democrats in Johnson County has grown notably since October 2016.

Johnson County has seen significant growth in the number of registered voters compared with the last presidential election cycle, with a bulk of that increase coming from residents who registered with the Democratic Party.

Democrats now make up more than 30% of the total registered voters in the county after a 41% increase in the number of registered Democrats compared to October 2016.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party saw a roughly 6% gain in voters, a growth that holds more steady with Johnson County’s population increase. In October 2016, Republicans made up 46% of the total voter population in the county. Today, they make up 43% of voters in Johnson County.

The Johnson County Election Office reported that 443,106 residents are registered to vote in the county — a 12% increase from October 2016. In the last month alone, the county gained 9,000 new voters. Most month-to-month increases this year ranged in the 1,000s or 2,000s.

Here are Johnson County’s voter registration numbers in October 2016:

And here are those numbers for October 2020:

Johnson County has more than 47,000 new voters this year compared to October 2016. Granted, the county’s population is growing. The U.S. Census Bureau’s population estimates show that Johnson County has had a steady population growth of 10% over the past decade.

Population growth alone doesn’t account for the growth in voter registration. Patrick Miller, a political science professor at the University of Kansas, said voter registration numbers have had significant growth nationwide, particularly in suburban areas like Johnson County.

“In the last four years, there’s been more enthusiasm, greater expansion in voter registration, particularly in suburbs,” Miller said. “A 12% in voter registration is quite large, but in context, Johnson County is following a bit of a national trend there.”

While Johnson County’s voter population saw growth, the number of unaffiliated, independent voters actually decreased by 3% from October 2016. Unaffiliated voters made up 29% of Johnson County’s voter population; today, they make up about 25%.

While any number of factors could play a role in the loss of independent voters, Miller attributes this decrease to predominantly one cause: Access to the primaries. In Kansas, primary elections are closed to unaffiliated voters who would have to register with a political party if they wanted to cast a ballot back in August.

“It’s really these transitional communities like Johnson County, like a lot of our suburban communities around the country, where the increase in independents that you would normally expect from young people, isn’t necessarily seeing any registration numbers,” Miller said.

Voter registration numbers aren’t always telling of how people will actually vote. Political scientists like Miller find in their studies that some voters may have registered with one political party years ago but end up transitioning to favor a different political party. Plus, the voter registration data from the Johnson County Election Office doesn’t differentiate between new voters and voters who have changed political parties.

‘a blueing county’

And Johnson County is certainly transitioning. More telling than any party registration numbers is how voters behave at the polls. Even with Johnson County’s predominantly Republican voter population, Johnson Countians mostly favored Democratic candidates in statehouse, gubernatorial and Congressional races in 2018.

“Johnson County is a blueing county,” Miller added. “It was solid red not too long ago. It is at least purple now, and it may be transitioning over to a light shade of blue.”

Ultimately, the best indicator for Johnson County’s political affiliations lies in the future, after the ballots are counted on Election Day.

“This is probably the sixth conversation I’ve had about these numbers in the last year, and my caution is the numbers are always interesting, but don’t overinterpret them,” Miller said. “There are things going here, but don’t take it for more than it is. These registration numbers are cool, they’re interesting, but look at the voting patterns.”