VIDEO: Kansas Republicans hold roundtable on their preferred candidates
When Kansas Republicans decided to offer absentee voting for the first time in their presidential caucus, they expected to get maybe 300 applications.
They got almost 3,000.
And that may mean Kansas won’t know the winner until days after the caucus polls close Saturday.
“It was way more than what I was expecting,” said State Republican Party Chairman Kelly Arnold.
This year, the national Republican Party directed all the states to offer absentee voting to soldiers serving overseas. Knowing they’d have to do that, the Kansas party leaders decided to open up absentee balloting to anyone who contacted the party and requested one, Executive Director Clay Barker said.
They ended up opening a floodgate.
Barker and Arnold said the party was inundated with requests for ballots from soldiers, observant Jews who can’t vote on their Sabbath day, elderly people who have a hard time getting to caucus sites and residents who will be out of state on Saturday.
Even Kansas Republican icon Bob Dole, the 92-year-old former senator and presidential candidate, requested an absentee ballot from Washington, Arnold said.
2,947Absentee ballots requested for Kansas caucus
The party stopped taking absentee applications Wednesday to have time to get the ballots mailed to people before Saturday’s live caucus meetings. The party will count all absentee ballots postmarked Saturday or earlier, Barker said.
The mailed-in ballots will go to Topeka, where they’ll be separated by congressional districts and counted by hand, because that’s how Kansas apportions its delegates to the national convention, Barker said.
About 98 percent of the ballots were sent by U.S. mail, Barker said. A few members of the military waived confidentiality of their ballots so they could vote by e-mail from remote posts, including the U.S. embassy in Iraq, he said.
In addition to absentees, the party will also have to count “provisional” ballots from Kansans who vote somewhere other than their home polling place.
Republicans away from home but in the state Saturday can vote at any caucus site and have their ballot counted as if they had voted at their home site, Barker said. In addition, the party opened up a caucus location in St. Louis to accommodate voting by Wichita State University fans attending the Missouri Valley Conference basketball tournament.
Between absentee and provisional ballots, Barker said he’s expecting the party will have about 4,000-5,000 ballots to hand-count after Saturday.
40 Kansas delegates at stake in 2016 Republican caucus
About 31,000 Republicans voted in the 2012 caucus and turnout is expected to be heavier this year. The late-count votes could still represent about 10 percent of the votes cast and could influence the final outcome of the caucus, Barker said.
In 2012, when the party just had to deal with provisional votes, there weren’t enough to affect the outcome of the race between eventual Republican nominee Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who won Kansas handily, Barker said.
This year, the vote is expected to be much closer. Instead of a two-man race like 2012, votes will be split between four candidates: businessman Donald Trump, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Sedgwick County Republican voters who missed the absentee deadline can still vote in person 10-2 p.m. Saturday at the caucus site at the Century II Convention Center in Wichita.