Early voting strong

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— More than 3,000 Routt County voters had already cast early ballots for the Nov. 7 election by midday Thursday, leading County Clerk Kay Weinland to conclude the turnout at the polls on Tuesday will also be heavy.
"It's exciting, but it's intense," Weinland said. "We're all exhausted, but it's a thrilling job to be a part of the process."
Weinland said some people might conclude that heavy early voting would reduce traffic at the polls on Nov. 7. But that's not the way she sees it.
"I think it means a record turnout," Weinland said.
Election Clerk Vicki Weber said that by the end of the day on Wednesday, 2,907 early voters had cast ballots at the courthouse. She said she was confident in predicting the total had surpassed 3,000 by noon on Thursday.
The traffic at the clerk's office this week has been so steady that the work of preparing ballots for the different precincts around Routt County has fallen a little behind schedule. Weinland and Weber planned to work through the weekend to make sure they are ready in time.
Weinland already has warned her employees to expect to be up past 2 a.m. on election night. The fact that this year's ballot is printed on both sides of two sheets of paper means that regardless of voter turnout, there are twice as many "ballots" to feed through the automatic counting machine as there are in some smaller elections.
Weinland said the previous record for early voting set in the presidential election year of 1996 was 2,062 ballots.
Routt County instituted early voting in 1995. Back in 1996, 7,994 Routt County voters cast ballots. In that year, there were 12,280 people registered to vote in the county.
As of Oct. 10, 2000, there were 16,231 people registered to vote in Routt County.
Weinland said presidential elections typically generate more voter interest than other elections. Interest in this year's election is being spurred by a variety of local and regional candidate races as well as both statewide amendments to the constitution and an excise tax to benefit affordable housing in Steamboat Springs. Voters in south Routt are being asked to consider a bond issue for a new library, and voters in Hayden are being asked to consider two taxation questions to pay for a new
$5.6 million recreation center.
This year's number of early voters in Routt County already is approaching 50 percent of the voters who cast ballots, both early and at the polls, in the entire 1998 election, when Gov. Bill Owens achieved a close victory over Democrat Gail Schoettler. Routt County voters cast 6,902 ballots in 1998.
Weinland can't quite get the last presidential election out of her mind. The night that Bill Clinton defeated Bob Dole, it took so long to count the votes that Weinland's staff took a break to go home and take showers, then came back at daylight to finish tabulating the outcome.
This year, the Routt County Board of Commissioners has already passed a resolution authorizing the clerk's office to remain closed until noon Nov. 8 just in case election night turns into an all-nighter.

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