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Officials say more voters registered, fewer will vote

September 03, 1998|By JULIE E. GREENE

Voter registration in Washington County is at an all-time high going into the Sept. 15 primary, but officials believe that most of those people won't go to the polls.

According to voter registration records, 64,389 Washington County residents are registered to vote. Of those, 56,678 are registered as either Republican or Democrat, and therefore are eligible to vote in the primary.

The GOP has the edge with 28,546, while 28,132 people are registered Democrats.

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Election Director Dorothy Kaetzel said she expects voter turnout to remain low, in line with the 36 percent turnout for the 1994 gubernatorial race.

Before the 1994 gubernatorial primary registration in Washington County was at 51,218. One reason for the increase is a voter law change in January 1995 that allows people to register to vote when they apply for or renew driver's licenses, Kaetzel said.

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Kaetzel said she doesn't expect many people who registered to vote through the Motor Vehicle Administration to go to the polls.

The heads of Washington County's Republican and Democratic central committees agree.

"Voting is as much a habit as it is an obligation of citizenship. Many people register to vote, but don't get in the habit of voting," said Rick Hemphill, county Democratic Central Committee chairman.

Hemphill said the number of registered voters also can be deceiving because the election board no longer purges registered voters from the list when they fail to vote in five years.

That practice stopped after 1994, Kaetzel said.

The number of registered voters purged has ranged from 129 in 1985 to 5,500 in 1990, according to election board records that go back to 1971.

In 1986, 1,900 registered voters were removed from the rolls, Kaetzel said.

Susan Saum-Wicklein, chairwoman of the Republican Central Committee, said she expects voter turnout to be as high as 42 percent because there are so many candidates running in contested primary races.

There are, for example, 14 Republicans and 14 Democrats seeking their parties' nominations for five Washington County Commissioner seats.

Hemphill said he expects voter turnout for Democrats to be around 30 percent and to be highest in areas such as Halfway that are severely affected by high county water and sewer rates.

Lower turnout will make each person's vote mean more, Hemphill said.

The primary is more important than the Nov. 3 general election in the sense that it determines who the party candidates will be, he said.

Hemphill said he doesn't think the edge the Republicans have in registered voters will make a difference at the polls since not all registered voters vote.

He said he's more concerned about the 6,804 registered voters who declined to pick a political party.

Most of those people probably would have registered as Democrats in the past, he said.

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