Larger turnout expected for primaries

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When Routt County Clerk Kay Weinland ordered primary ballots this year, she ordered a lot.

"I ordered ballots based on a good turnout for this primary, because I do believe we're going to have a good turnout," Weinland said.

With contested primary races at the national level for both parties and an especially full ballot for the Republican party, Weinland said she is expecting -- and hoping -- that a lot of Routt County voters will come to the polls.

"I would love to know how to get people involved and active and engaged," Weinland said. "It's the point of democracy, that the public be involved and participate, and their vote counts."

An exciting primary election is no guarantee that a lot of people will vote.

But, if history has any bearing on what will happen in the next couple of weeks, Weinland was smart to buy a lot of ballots.

In the past 10 years, the largest primary showing for Republicans was in 1994, when 38 percent of registered voters came to polls. That year, there was a county commissioner race, a race for county sheriff, a three-way race for governor and a surveyor race within the party.

The largest primary showing for Democrats was in 1998, when almost 15 percent of registered voters came to vote in a year with a race for U.S. senator and governor.

The lowest turnout for both parties came in 2002, a "very uncontested" primary year, Weinland said. There were no races for either party.

This year, for the Republican party, there are two contested county commissioner primary races: Bea Westwater is challenging incumbent Nancy Stahoviak in District 1, while Jeff Fry and Mark Marchus are facing off in District 2.

There also is a five-way race for the chance to be on the November ballot for the Congressional District 3 seat. With five candidates in the primary, there is a good chance there will be a recount, Weinland said.

For the Democratic party, the primary race for U.S. senator between Mike Miles and Ken Salazar could increase turnout for the party, Weinland said.

"This kind of heats up the ballot this year," she said. "This should be an exciting primary."

The primary election is Aug. 10, and polls across the county will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. For the primaries, many precincts are combined because of lower voter turnout than in the regular election.

There are two other ways for voters to get their opinions in before that day.

Early voting, which begins Monday, is a "real convenience," especially for people who don't want to take the chance that something will come up on Primary Election Day that keeps them away from the polls, Weinland said. It also is convenient for those who may be on vacation or live out of town.

Anyone registered in Routt County can vote from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at the west entrance to the Routt County Courthouse off Sixth Street.

Another option is the absentee ballot. Residents have until Tuesday to apply to have a mailed absentee ballot, and can apply for a carried absentee ballot until Friday. Those ballots must be in to the county by 7 p.m. on Primary Election Day.

So far, 55 Democrats and 75 Republicans have requested absentee ballots.

"I feel like we've gone to great lengths to make it convenient for people to vote," Weinland said.

People who are not sure whether they're registered to vote should call the county clerk's office, Weinland said. Once voters are registered, they stay registered unless they don't vote, and then have two more general elections to vote and keep their registered status.

For the primary, voters must vote on the ballot for the political party for which they are registered, but those who are unaffiliated can affiliate at the polls.

Residents who shy away from voting because of fears that the process is not accurate should be assured that the process is transparent, with bipartisan oversight every step of the way, Weinland said.

On Thursday, the county had the public test of the tally machine for the primaries with representatives from the Republican and Democratic parties casting test votes. At all other times before Election Day, the machine stays locked in Weinland's office, she said.

The tally machine was upgraded last year, and the county officially purchased it this year after leasing for a year. It's an optical scan machine that has been certified by a testing lab and is faster and more modern than the old machine, Weinland said.

"I'm pretty passionate about the integrity of the process," Weinland said. "It does have so many checks and balances in place that people don't realize."

As a result of the 2000 presidential elections, two newer requirements have been put in place. First, provisional ballots are available for those who show up at the polls but whose votes must be double-checked.

For instance, if voters moved from another county within the state and didn't update their records, if they registered at the driver's license office to vote but their paperwork never came in to the county's offices, or if they forgot to bring some type of identification to the polls with them, they can vote on a provisional ballot. Whether those residents can vote in the county is verified in the days after the election, and then their votes are counted.

Having to bring one type of identification to the polls also is a new state requirement, Weinland said. Driver's licenses are the predominant type of ID used, but others are allowed.

-- To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203

or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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