Friday, October 31, 2008

Wichita/Sedgwick County expects 100,000 Advance Voters!!!

Reposted from: The Wichita Eagle
by: Fred Mann

Some are eager to cast a presidential ballot. Some just want to beat the rush. And some, like Brenda Gillmore of Cheney, just suddenly think it's a good idea. "I was in Wichita today driving by the zoo and thought I'd just vote in advance," said Gillmore, who voted Thursday at the Sedgwick County Zoo.

Whatever the reasons, record numbers of Sedgwick County residents are voting early. About half the people expected to vote in this election -- 104,000 out of 208,000 -- will have done so before Tuesday's Election Day, said Bill Gale, the county's election commissioner. In the 2004 general presidential election, 25,903 voters voted early in Sedgwick County. That was 14.3 percent of the county's total number of voters. When Gale first predicted a 50-percent early vote turnout, "some people laughed at me... said I was little crazy, but I think we're going to see that this time," he said.

The county already is more than two-thirds of the way to 100,000 voters with today, Saturday and Monday to go. Turnout has been heavy at the county's 15 satellite locations, and large numbers of mail ballots are coming in.

Votes have been pouring in at a record pace across Kansas and the more than 30 other states that allow early voting. Michael McDonald, an associate professor at George Mason University who compiles early voting statistics, said his running total of early voters tops 16.4 million. He estimates as many as a third of all voters may cast a ballot before Nov. 4, about double the proportion who did so in 2000. Four years ago, approximately one in five voters voted before Election Day.

Nearly 30 percent of registered voters already have voted in Kansas, according to the Kansas Secretary of State's Office. By early Thursday, 208,848 votes had been cast by mail or in person in a state with 1.75 million registered voters, said Stephanie Meyer, public information officer.

Keen interest in the presidential race and efforts by political parties and candidates to get their voters to the polls early are among the reasons for the heavy advance turnout, she said. "Maybe people are hearing there's going to be such a large turnout on Election Day they're hoping to avoid some of that line," she said. Ralph and Sally McGuire cast their votes Thursday at the Westlink Church of Christ because "we pretty well had our minds made up," Ralph said. "And we wanted to avoid long lines," Sally said. Patricia Voyles voted at the zoo Thursday because it was close to home. "It's been an exciting presidential election and I wanted to make sure I got my voting done," she said.

Becky Poetker, who voted with her mother, Shirley Ferguson, at St. Andrews Lutheran Church, said this election is important historically, no matter who wins. "It's the first time we've had an African-American running," Poetker said. "And, the first time for a woman vice president," her mother interjected.

Election officials at the satellite sites reported steady streams of voters, few glitches, and an average time of 10 to 15 minutes to complete the process.

James Crowder, supervising judge at the Center for Health and Wellness, 2707 E. 21st St., said the turnout there was "amazing," with non-stop lines. He estimated about 1,000 people had voted the first two days, and people were waiting outside before voting started. "We were so overwhelmed we had to get a couple of extra machines," he said. Wait time was short, said one voter. "I walked in, did my thing and now I'm walking out," said Karen Rozalez, who estimated it had taken her 10 minutes to vote at the center.

The biggest problem with the heavy turnout has been running out of supplies, especially paper ballots, Gale said. They are easily replaced by runners for the county who hustle the ballots, new "I voted" stickers, touch-screen paper and other supplies to the sites. Paper jams were reported at some of the sites earlier in the week, but on Thursday, Gale said, there was just onepaper jam at the 15 sites.

One site, the Marantha Worship Center, 888 S. Webb Road, reported on Tuesday that two of its six touch-screen machines needed to be re-calibrated after a couple of voters saw their votes show up for the wrong candidate. Gale said the problem pops up once or twice a week, but can be quickly fixed by county tech specialists talking poll workers through the steps needed to fix the machines over the telephone.

Paper ballots have been used by about 25 percent of the early voters, he said. Heavy advance voting will mean a smaller turnout on Election Day, Gale said. "I think we'll have fewer voters show up on Election Day than any presidential election in last 20 years," he said.

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