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Record numbers cast ballots in Franklin County

November 06, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - In terms of raw numbers, Tuesday's election had the largest turnout ever in Franklin County, but it fell short as a percentage of registered voters, according to complete but unofficial results from the county Election Board.

The 63,795 voters who cast ballots was a few thousand ahead of the 2004 total of 59,320. However, the percentage of turnout was 72 percent, the same as four years ago. Since that time, the county added more than 6,700 voters with 88,787 registered, according to county election figures.

Republican presidential nominee John McCain received 65 percent of the vote to 33 percent for Democrat Barack Obama. That was a better performance by the Democrat in this GOP stronghold than in 2004 when John Kerry got 28 percent.

The last time turnout was higher was in 1996 when the race between Bill Clinton and Republican Bob Dole drew 74 percent of voters.

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The county experienced higher turnouts in elections prior to implementation of the federal Motor Voter law in 1995. Turnout was 84 percent in 1984, 82 percent in 1988 and 85 percent in 1992.

Motor Voter gave people more options for registering, including when they received or renewed a driver's license. It also eliminated regular purges based on voting inactivity.

In the years before 1995, registration sometimes grew by a few hundred a year or decreased. Since 1995, registration has increased by 34,000.

The county fielded hundreds of calls from voters on Tuesday, said Deputy Chief Clerk Jean Byers. The vast majority were from people unsure of where to vote or whether they were registered.

To accommodate the expected crush of voters, extra voting booths and clerks were added at some larger precincts, and poll books were divided alphabetically to allow more than one line of voters, County Commissioner Bob Thomas said Monday.

Some voters were given provisional ballots, because their names were not in the poll books, usually because they had moved and failed to notify the county of a change of address, Byers said. In many cases, voters were directed back to their former precinct to vote, Byers said.

Technicians were stationed around the county to handle mechanical issues with the tabulating machines at each precinct, mostly for paper jams, Byers said.

So voting would not be slowed, the machines have an emergency bin where ballots could be deposited, Byers said. Once the machines were fixed, the ballots could be fed through the optical scanners, she said.

Many precincts reported lines forming before voting began at 7 a.m., but only a few reported having people waiting in line at the 8 p.m. close, Byers said. More than 100 were reported to be at Washington Township 5, but anyone standing in line at 8 p.m. was allowed to vote, she said.

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