Friday, November 10, 2006

Voter turnout high but shy of expectations

1,567 absentee returns breaks Blaine County record

Express Staff Writer

Voters contemplate their choices Tuesday at Hemingway Elementary School in Ketchum. Steady streams of county residents poured through polling stations throughout Blaine County during Tuesday?s mid-term elections Photo by Willy Cook

Voter turnout was heavy in Blaine County for the Nov. 7 elections, and absentee ballot returns set an all-time record.

But the overall turnout was not as high as projected, according to Blaine County Clerk Marsha Riemann.

"We're not quite sure why," she said.

Of the 11,328 registered voters in the county, 7,430—65.59 percent—showed up at the polls.

That's almost identical to voter turnout in 2004, which was 65.68 percent.

But the absentee returns broke a record with 1,567 ballots submitted. The previous record of 1,472 was set in 2000.

Riemann said initial projections incorrectly placed absentee ballot returns at greater than 2,000. The discrepancy was likely caused by a technical error and was sorted out Tuesday night.

Riemann has worked for the county for 28 years, eight as the clerk. She will retire this January and be replaced by Jo Lynn Drage, a Democrat who ran unopposed for the post Tuesday.

"It really does feel good," Riemann said Wednesday after the dust settled from yet another election.

Riemann thinks the county needs to explore some "new ideas" for future elections, such as allowing mail-in ballots.

"That, at some point, probably should be something the county looks at," Riemann said. "I think county clerks statewide will propose legislation for that."

Riemann added that the county can explore a number of measures to boost voter turnout in the future.

"These are excellent numbers, but it would be great to get those numbers up even more," she said. "There are lots of things we can do to make things more efficient and easier for the public to get voter numbers up."

Newly elected county officials, including County Commissioner-elect Larry Schoen and incumbent Commissioner Sarah Michael—who has served on the commission since 2001—will be sworn into office in early January, Riemann said.

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