Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Election races drawing large Nov. 2 turnout

Voter registration forms pile up as many choose to vote absentee

Express Staff Writer

Since the May 25 primary election, 1,400 voters have registered to participate in the democratic process in Blaine County. That?s more registrations in a period leading up to an election than the county has experienced since 1992, when 1,900 new voters registered.

?To me, it means that the people feel that this is a very important election,? said County Clerk Marsha Reimann. ?More and more people are saying it?s important to vote. We?ve also had a lot of young people register, which is something that usually doesn?t happen.?

By Monday, Oct. 25, Blaine County voters had also already cast more than 1,200 absentee ballots. In the 2000 presidential election, absentee voters cast 1,496 ballots, but with four days to go until the election, and 100 voters a day casting absentee ballots, the 2000 benchmark should be surpassed, Reimann said.

By Tuesday morning, Blaine County had 11,529 registered voters. Typical election year voter turnout usually hovers around 79 percent, Reimann said.

?But I have a feeling this is going to be bigger than that,? she said.

Leaders of the Republican and Democratic parties in Blaine County said voter interest appears to be high in response to the presidential election between President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry.

In the 2000 presidential race between Bush and Al Gore, there was a sense that the two parties were not particularly different, said Maurice Charlat, chairman of the Blaine County Republican Central Committee.

?I know I heard that from people. I got the feeling that at that point in time, people didn?t see a significant difference,? he said.

But that may have changed.

?Now I think we?re going to see a tight race, but a whole new dynamic is in place,? Charlat said. ?That is, there is a significant difference. Kerry and Bush are decidedly different on issues pertaining to health, education, terrorism, Iraq, the environment. There are clearly drawn lines that differentiate these two candidates.?

And that, he said, could give a boost to the voter turnout.

?I think, now, people can see and understand their candidates for what they see and represent and are rushing to make sure the candidate with their point of view is elected.?

Blaine County Democrats Chair Betty Murphy has a similar read on the race.

?It?s a sign that everybody?s interested,? she said. ?There?s a lot of energy. A lot of people are going to go to the polls and vote when they haven?t voted before.?

Murphy also stressed several issues.

?I believe that, number one, we?re in a war, and a lot of people are interested in that,? she said. ?A lot of people are interested in the economy. I know a lot of people here in Blaine County are not happy with the administration that?s in power now, and they want to make sure there?s a change in November. That?s what they?re expressing.?

Murphy observed that Nov. 2 is going to be a long night of counting for clerks around the country. As further evidence of voter interest in the election, she said the Blaine County Democrats? headquarters in Ketchum has been very busy.

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