Early voting breaks records

Less than half of county's voters remain to cast ballots on Election Day

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By the numbers

Early voting in Routt County

- 17,850 registered voters in Routt County

- 14,751 active voters in Routt County (voters are inactivated if they miss a general election)

- 4,469 people voted early (25 percent of registered voters)

- 6,650 mail-in ballots issued (37 percent of registered voters)

- 4,442 mail-in ballots processed as of Friday night

- 11,119 voted early or were issued mail-in ballots (62 percent of registered voters; 75 percent of active voters)

- In past presidential election years, 4,080 ballots were cast early or mailed-in in 2004, compared to 3,556 in 2000

— More than 60 percent of the 17,850 registered voters in Routt County have voted or been issued a ballot for Tuesday's election, exceeding expectations and toppling previous records by the thousands.

As of Friday, 4,469 people had voted early and 6,650 had been mailed ballots, said Routt County Clerk and Recorder Kay Weinland. Also as of Friday night, 4,442 mail-in ballots had been returned and processed.

Outstanding mail-in ballots can be dropped off by 4:30 p.m. today at one of the county's five designated drop-off sites, or by 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Elections Office on Lincoln Avenue near Sixth Street, behind the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. Ballots must be received - not postmarked - by 7 p.m. on Election Day.

The early participation numbers are even more impressive when put in the context of Routt County's 14,751 active voters, Weinland said. Taken against the population who voted in the last general election, about 75 percent already have voted or been mailed a ballot.

"We had set a goal to have, I believe it was either 50 or 60 percent of everyone who votes, to vote early or mail-in," Weinland said. "So we've exceeded our goal, which I find very thrilling. It's satisfying to see all this work pay off."

Representatives from local Democratic and Republican parties have made concerted efforts to get out the vote, using phone banks, campaign offices and neighborhood canvassers to remind people of voting deadlines and tout their respective candidates. Carol O'Hare, a lead volunteer for the McCain-Palin "Victory 2008" headquarters, said the office has focused not only on early voting, but also on making sure people vote at all.

"I think the right to vote is probably one of the greatest privileges we have as United States citizens, so no matter what side of the spectrum you're on, to get out and exercise that privilege has been extremely important," O'Hare said. She suggested those voters using mail-in ballots drop them off at this point, to make sure they get counted on time.

Catherine Carson, chairman of the Routt County Democratic Party, said the party's local branch has teamed with the Steamboat Springs field office for Barack Obama's "Campaign for Change" to emphasize voter registration and early voting.

"We have had literally hundreds of volunteers," Carson said. In addition to alleviating long lines on Election Day, early voting also removes an element of chance on whether people will go to the polls, she said.

"It makes sense to ensure everyone's vote counts, because things can happen on Election Day - cars break down and kids get sick. It's just too important to wait until the last minute," Carson said.

Even with much of the electorate accounted for, Weinland said she expects a steady turnout at the polls Tuesday.

"People should go prepared to wait in line, but I don't think it's going to be excessive," Weinland said, adding that paper ballots and additional machines have been added at each site. Weinland said she expects a rush when the polls open at 7 a.m. until about 9 a.m., during lunch hour and from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

"I don't think it'll be anything more than they've encountered in previous elections, and I don't think it'll be any more than at early voting," she said.

Voters who requested a mail-in ballot and have decided to vote in person on Tuesday will be required to cast a provisional ballot. Valid identification - such as a current Colorado driver's license, U.S. Passport or U.S. military identification card - is required to vote in person.

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