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Officials say absentee ballots predicting big voter turnout

October 31, 2000

Officials say absentee ballots predicting big voter turnout



By JULIE E. GREENE / Staff Writer


If the number of absentee ballots being issued in the Tri-State area is any indication - and election officials think it is - voter turnout should be high for next Tuesday's general election.

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Washington County Election Director Dorothy Kaetzel said voter turnout could reach 77 percent, up from 70 percent in the 1996 presidential election.

Kaetzel has issued almost 2,400 of the 2,500 absentee ballots on hand and has ordered 500 more since emergency absentee ballots can still be issued.

Berkeley County (W.Va.) Circuit Clerk Virginia Sine said she expects voter turnout to increase in light of the fact more than 800 absentee ballots have been issued in that county.

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Although Sine couldn't say what the previous high was for absentee ballots, she was sure the county had well surpassed it.

"I've just never seen anything like this," said Sine, who has worked in the Circuit Clerk office for 36 years.

Tri-State election officials believe the tight presidential race between Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush is the main reason for the high turnout.

"I think there's a lot of interest in this election," said Jefferson County (W.Va.) Circuit Clerk Patsy Noland. "Usually the number of absentee voters is a good indicator for turnout on Election Day."

Noland said 573 absentee ballots had been issued as of Tuesday afternoon. The previous high was 350.

Election officials in Washington County and Franklin County, Pa., said more absentee ballots were issued to Republican voters, which may be a reflection of more Republicans being registered in those areas.

In Franklin County, where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats 2-1, the number of absentee ballots issued for Republicans was 1,570, approximately three times the number of those issued for Democrats, said Chief Registrar Jennie Aines.

In Fulton County, Pa., 254 absentee ballots have been issued. That's the highest number Denise Grissinger has seen in her 27 years in the County Commissioners office.

Typically, 50 to 75 absentee ballots are cast, but the presidential race is attracting more voters, Grissinger said.

Others factors also may be at play in the high absentee ballot turnout.

For the first time, voters in Washington County can download the absentee ballot application off the Internet, then mail or fax it in, Kaetzel said.

"A lot of college students have downloaded and faxed it in," Kaetzel said.

That feature also is available for voters in Frederick County, where approximately 3,510 absentee ballots had been issued as of Tuesday.

A few local races also may be driving people to vote, election officials said.

Kaetzel expects the race among eight candidates for four Washington County Board of Education seats will be determined by absentee ballots.

In Jefferson County, five people are vying for three Magistrate Court slots, Noland said.

Morgan County Deputy Circuit Clerk Helen Morris said the county sheriff's race is attracting voters. More than 300 absentee ballots had been issued there.

In Franklin County, voters are interested in Pennsylvania's 89th district House race between Democratic incumbent Jeff Coy and Republican Kenneth L. Gill, Aines said.

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