First-time Voting in Johnson County


Photo illustration by Sarah Manuel

Sarah Manuel, Staff Writer

Despite the call of election fraud and illegal votes, the fact remains that the 2020 election has had the highest turnout since the 1900 election. A large part of this turnout was young voters and first-time voters. 

I had the fortunate opportunity to participate in this year’s presidential election seeing as I had finally become of legal age to vote.My family and I chose to cast our ballots at the Indian Creek Library on October 27th; exactly one week before the election. 

Many people were at this location, some heading in to avoid the freezing cold, two ladies taking a selfie outside of the building with their newly adorned “I voted in Johnson County” stickers and many people entering and exiting rapidly.

Living in the largest registered-to-vote county with 425,706 people, according to the Johnson County election office- a 7,250 increase from 2019- I was prepared to wait in a line. I did not expect that line, however, to consist of only two or three people. 

I was pleasantly surprised at the level of preparedness in the poll station. The floors marked a clear six-feet apart guidelines, a gentleman at the door unwrapped new pens with a stylus end for machine use, and there were specific slots to place identification so workers and voters never came into direct contact. 

Upon entry I felt nervous, out of my league in a space I had previously only heard about from my parents every four years prior. It was definitely a rite of passage and hopefully I wouldn’t screw it up. When I made it to the front, I was instructed to place down my license to be scanned. It was then I was asked what my name was and where I lived to confirm I was indeed who I said to be.When confirmed, she shouted “first time voter,” the room cheered, and was handed a long sheet of paper-for the ballot to be printed on and was on my way.

The machines used were simple enough. I slipped the long sheet of paper into the machine and then pressed start.

The first option, of course, was to vote for the presidential candidate and vice president elect, then it was followed by various congress members, state representatives, city officials, judges and other significant figures in Kansas. 

Once finished and everything was confirmed, the ballot was spit back out with the appropriately printed information. I was then instructed to take it to another person, place it face down into another machine and my vote was counted. I did it; and for all my efforts I received my voting sticker.

How did it feel? Well, in short it felt anticlimactic, but also purposeful, knowing my vote would help to determine the next U.S. president.

After voting, I wanted to hear from other Johnson County voters on their experiences voting in this election. 

I took to the streets-meaning I stood outside the building-and asked a few residents on their decision to vote early in-person.

One Johnson County voter responded “I did so because it is a privilege to come out and vote and I think it is essential to exercise your right to vote to its fullest potential.”

Voter turnout and enthusiasm seems to be the trend this election cycle. Data from the Johnson County election office website shows the dramatic increase in voter turnout this year from 72.83% in 2016 to an estimated 75.02% this year. 

The turnout alone in Johnson County has had a significant impact on Kansas demographics as it has the largest registered voter pool in the state and, according to the New York Times, had an 8 point increase for Biden over Trump in a largely Republican-leaning state. 

This may have to do with the results of the previous 2016 election, a sore spot for many and set the stage for the razor-thin voting numbers in crucial states. 

Chris Daniels, another Johnson County voter I spoke with, voiced his opinions on the change in attitude for active voting “I think now more than ever, especially given the results of the last election and the disbelief of what happened, this one will put a spotlight on how important it is [to vote].”

Important indeed, and not only on the federal level as the voters I interviewed expressed that the state elections are nothing to simply brush over.

“To me it’s really important that whomever is leading our state is doing so with the best interests of Kansans. When we’re voting for the president it gets a lot of attention but they’re not specifically thinking about the needs of people within Kansas” another Johnson County voter responded. 

As a first-time voter, hearing the responses of many experienced voters it seems there is much more I still have to learn-especially at the state and local level. 

Voting may seem insignificant, one drop in the ocean, but as the days roll past November 3rd and mail-in ballots are still being processed, it becomes much more clear that every vote counts.