TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Secretary of State Kris Kobach predicted Thursday that a record number of Kansas voters will participate in next week’s election and said high interest in the presidential race has caused a surge in early voting.
Kobach is projecting that more than 1.3 million of the state’s 1.8 million registered voters will cast ballots before polls close Tuesday. If he’s right, the state will see a turnout of 72 percent.
It would be the highest percentage since the 74.7 percent seen in 1996. Kansas has significantly more registered voters than it did 20 years ago, partly because of federal laws that encourage people to register at motor vehicle offices.
About 324,000 Kansas residents already have cast ballots, including nearly 126,000 by mail. That figure is 32 percent higher than the 245,000 votes cast at the same point before the presidential election four years ago.
Kobach, a conservative Republican, was an early supporter of GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump and said Trump is attracting new voters who hadn’t participated in politics previously. Kobach rejected suggestions that early voting has surged because voters are weary of the acrimonious campaign between Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
“Voter interest is extremely high,” Kobach said. “Voter interest is reflected in the very rapid pace of advance voting.”
The previous record for number of ballots was in 2008, when more than 1.26 million Kansas residents voted. Democrat Barack Obama won his first term as president, though he did not carry GOP-leaning Kansas.
Heather Scanlon, the executive director of the Kansas Democratic Party, said Trump’s candidacy is also encouraging voters who oppose him to cast ballots.
“We’ve seen crazy numbers in early voting already,” Scanlon said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if we do see record turnout.”