Keenan Starbuck (with the Ronald Reagan mask) and Mike Makens hold signs showing their support for John McCain and Bob Schaffer on U.S. Highway 40 on Tuesday afternoon. The long elections process came to an end Tuesday when the final votes were cast.

Photo by John F. Russell

Keenan Starbuck (with the Ronald Reagan mask) and Mike Makens hold signs showing their support for John McCain and Bob Schaffer on U.S. Highway 40 on Tuesday afternoon. The long elections process came to an end Tuesday when the final votes were cast.

Huge voter turnout in Routt County

90 percent of active voters cast ballots this year; smooth sailing at polls Tuesday

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Voting across Routt County was slow and steady Tuesday, observers at precincts reported.

It was a far cry from the madness of two years ago, Clerk and Recorder Kay Weinland said. That was the county's first year using electronic voting equipment, and there was no paper backup, she said. Delays at polling locations across the county led to lines of up to four hours for voters waiting to cast ballots in 2006.

"It was pretty overwhelming," Weinland said. "It was not a good day. The next day was a hard day to face the public."

She predicted that today would be much easier.

Figures showed that 13,110 of Routt County's 14,751 active, registered voters cast ballots this year, and more than 200 provisional ballots were outstanding Tuesday night. That amounts to about 90 percent turnout. In the 2004 presidential election, the Clerk and Recorder's Office showed that there were 12,793 active, registered voters in Routt County. Almost 11,500, or 90 percent, voted in that election.

An active voter is one who either voted in the county's last general election or has registered since then.

The county encouraged voters to cast ballots early or vote by mail this year. Nearly 4,500 people voted early, and Routt County mailed ballots to 6,650 voters, Weinland said last week.

The county received 92 percent of those mail-in ballots, she said Tuesday. Those votes, along with the early votes, had to be tallied by precinct after the polls closed at 7 p.m.

"That took as much data entry as the entire Election Day results," Weinland said.

Poll watcher Mark Fischer said the pace was relaxed at Centennial Hall in Steamboat Springs. He attributed the calm to the push for early and mail-in voting.

"I think it grows upon itself," Fischer said. "In my office, a few of us early voted, and we said that to others, and they said why not do it."

Centennial Hall had served 275 voters by about 5:30 p.m. Many of those were Colorado Mountain College students casting ballots for the first time, election judge Katie Fletcher said. Their instructors also hit the polls, Fischer said, adding that they puffed up with pride as their students participated in the historic vote.

Voters strolled through in steady streams during lunchtime Tuesday in southern and western Routt County.

Oak Creek Town Hall saw its biggest rush when the polls opened at 7 a.m., election officials and poll watchers said. Eighteen or 20 people were waiting outside the door, election official Verna Whaley said.

"I've sat in on a lot of (elections), and this one's about as busy as they get," she said.

Down the road at Yampa Town Hall, 112 voters had come through as of about 1 p.m.

"This is the most people I've seen in 20-some years I've been doing it," said Larry Bond, of Phippsburg, who was monitoring the electronic voting machines. "It's been a very heavy turnout."

About 10 people were waiting when the polls opened at 7 a.m., Bond said. Two student judges from Soroco High School were helping out. Senior Sarajane Rossi and junior Sean Price took signature cards from voters and asked whether they wanted to vote using machines or paper ballots.

They were excited to participate in a high-interest election.

"My cousin and one of my friends did the last election," Rossi said. "It was really slow. Nobody came. So this is entertaining."

Short waits such as the one in Yampa were common, Weinland said.

"We had a little bit of a backup early in the morning, maybe 10 minutes," she said. "The rest of the day there was no wait. It was awesome."

Voting ran smoothly in Hayden, election official Tina Fry reported. There had been no lines, she said, and voters were coming in steadily all day. About 290 people had voted as of about 2:30 p.m.

Moonhill Schoolhouse in Clark served about 180 people during the 12-hour balloting.

"This has been very smooth," election judge Diane White-Crane said. "I think everybody seems happy, enthusiastic."

The elections officials in Clark said they were proud of Weinland and her staff. Weinland returned the compliment.

"I'm so excited, and I'm so relieved," a calm-sounding Weinland said at about 10:30 p.m. "I'm so proud of my elections officers. They did a great job."

- To reach Blythe Terrell, call 871-4234

or e-mail bterrell@steamboatpilot.com

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