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Voter numbers fall, shift to GOP

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Outmigration, an aging population and the region's strong religious background all are behind the shift to the Republican party in northwest Kansas.

Of the registered voters in the 20-county area, 6 in 10 are registered Republicans, according to new data from the Kansas Secretary of State's office.

The next largest political party isn't a party at all.

Unaffiliated voters as of Nov. 1 account for nearly 21 percent of the registered voters in northwest Kansas.

Democrats trail behind in third place, with slightly more than 18 percent of the total.

Since 2008, both Republicans -- by the largest number -- and voters considering themselves unaffiliated grew.

Democrats declined by nearly 8,000 voters during the course of four years.

Democrats had the greatest decline in Ellis County, long considered a stronghold in an otherwise Republican region.

Some of that loss in Ellis County had a spillover effect in the rest of the area, according to Chapman Rackaway, political science professor at Fort Hays State University and a self-professed aficionado of the election process.

"We're also seeing some of the effects of out-migration," he said. "If you're younger, you tend to be more liberal. When you're younger, you tend to register as a Democrat."

As they move out of the region, he said, that dilutes the number of Democrats in an otherwise Republican stronghold.

It's the same as when the population ages, and many long-standing Democrats simply die off.

As a result, many young people now growing up in a starkly Republican environment are staying the party line.

Rackaway thinks the strong religious connection for voters partly is responsible for the shift.

He points to Ellis County, where Catholics once were synonymous with Democrats.

Abortion and the Democrats' decision to defend the issue in the wake of Roe v. Wade prompted many Catholics to flee the party and register as a Republican.

To be sure, there are exceptions to the rule.

Republicans actually have lost ground in Graham County.

There, 14 fewer Republicans are registered, but there's also 77 fewer Democrats. The number of unaffiliated voters also fell between 2008 and 2012.

Since 2008, northwest Kansas has lost 1,159 registered voters.

Since 2000, the region has lost more than 7,000 residents.