4 takeaways from a historic primary election in Johnson County

More than 125,000 voters cast ballots in Johnson County on Election Day itself. Photo credit Evan Johnson.

Tuesday’s primary in Johnson County was an unusually busy and impactful one as far as midterm August elections go.

Voters here played a major part in Kansas’s decision to reject a much-discussed amendment on abortion and also set the table for a two-person race for the county’s top job, while also putting pieces in place for a full slate of Kansas House and statewide offices up for grabs in November.

Before we really start thinking about Nov. 8, let’s look back at some key things we noticed from Aug. 2.

Decisive win for “No”

A “No” supporter at an Election Night gathering in Overland Park on Tuesday. Photo credit Leah Wankum.

The vote to reject the Value Them Both abortion amendment was a resounding one for the “No” side statewide in Kansas, but in Johnson County, it could fairly be called a landslide.

  • Unofficial results from Tuesday night show “No” garnering 69% of votes in Johnson County, compared to 59% statewide.
  • Opposition to the measure that would have stripped abortion rights from the Kansas Constitution was bipartisan in Johnson County: Democrats and unaffiliated voters cast roughly 135,000 votes combined in the primary, but nearly 170,000 people said “No” overall, meaning the measure must have garnered a not insignificant amount of opposition from Republicans, too.
  • Abortion rights supporters took it as proof that voters in Kansas — and even more so in Johnson County — broadly support abortion that is “safe, legal and accessible,” as one organizer put it Tuesday night.
  • On the other hand, anti-abortion groups worry Tuesday’s results will lead to new legal challenges to current abortion regulations in Kansas, and both sides are gearing up for what could be an intense battle this November over six state supreme court justices’ retention elections.

There will be a distinct choice for county chair

The two candidates who advanced to the general election for Johnson County Commission Chair will present two ideologically distinct visions for the future of Johnson County.

  • Roeland Park Mayor Mike Kelly was the top vote-getter Tuesday by a wide margin, garnering 41% of the vote in a four-person contest based on the most recent unofficial count.
  • District 3 County Commissioner Charlotte O’Hara came in second with 28% of the vote.
  • Kelly touts his experience in municipal government and also his work co-founding Climate Action KC, which tries to coordinate governments across the region to lower their carbon emissions. He opposed the Value Them Both amendment and has been critical of Sheriff Calvin Hayden’s probe into the 2020 and 2021 election results in Johnson County, calling it a “politically motivated stunt.”
  • O’Hara is a former Kansas Republican Party official and one-time state representative who likes to say she is running as a conservative for this nominally nonpartisan office. She has been critical of the county’s COVID-19 response and openly skeptical of the effectiveness of masks and vaccines. She also is generally opposed to using tax incentives for development and says she wants to cut county spending.
  • If you want to start doing your homework, you can review our primary election primer and watch our primary forum for the chair race.

A Third District rematch … in a new Third District

Rep. Sharice Davids, left, and Amanda Adkins. File photos.

It’s what we’ve been expecting, but now it’s official: two-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids will once again face Republican Amanda Adkins, who easily won the GOP primary Tuesday. Davids, who went unopposed in the primary, defeated Adkins by 10 percentage points two years ago.

  • The names may be the same, but this time things are different. That’s because state lawmakers redrew Congressional district boundaries earlier this year after the 2020 Census. They kept Johnson County intact in the Third but took out a big chunk of Wyandotte County and added three mostly rural counties to the mix.
  • Critics contend this new map is gerrymandered to disadvantage Davids, but Tuesday’s results offer an intriguing story line going into November.
  • Abortion is expected to remain a key issue in the general election, and voters in the newly redrawn Third District overall rejected the Value Them Both amendment. It wasn’t just Johnson County and the remaining half of Wyandotte County, either. In the three newly added rural counties — Miami, Franklin and Anderson — the “No” side got 52% of the vote.
  • Data site Five Thirty Eight has pegged the Kansas Third as “highly competitive,” after it “leaned Democratic” under the old map.

Another smooth election with historic turnout

Johnson Countians showed out for a midterm August election like never before and the county’s election infrastructure seemed to hold up well, with no major problems reported on or immediately after Election Day.

  • As mail-in ballots have continued to be added to Tuesday’s total this week, turnout in Johnson County for the Aug. 2 primary now stands at nearly 55%.
  • For comparison’s sake, in the August 2020 primary (a presidential election year), turnout was 34.6%. In the 2016 primary, turnout was 20.2%.
  • County Election Commissioner Fred Sherman said more than 125,000 voters cast ballots on Election Day itself, at a clip of more than 10,500 per hour.
  • That last-minute crush of voters did force the election office to miss its goal of getting the first unofficial results published by 7:30 p.m. on Election Night.
  • Sherman said there were a few instances of voters arriving at the wrong polling place and being directed to the correct site. One vote scanner also jammed due to the humidity. But other than that, Sherman said, they experienced no significant problems.