(Photo by Scott Welton, Staff)
SIKESTON -- As the countdown to Nov. 4 continues and the number of days keeps growing fewer and fewer, people's anticipation for the election keeps growing. And few people know that better than those who work in area county clerks offices, who are responsible for registering voters and making other preparations for an Election Day that will run as smoothly as possible.
"There's a lot of interest this year," said Rita Milam, county clerk in Scott County.
Other county clerks offices have seen the same, and some officials predict it could be the largest turnout in recent years -- if ever -- for a presidential election.
"The predicament the nation is in itself is drawing a large interest," Junior DeLay, Mississippi County Clerk, said of issues such as the economy. "The presidential elections are always the heaviest, but this year in particular, because it has been such a long campaign."
While he did not give an exact prediction, DeLay said that, percentage-wise, he would not be surprised if Nov. 4 brings about the largest turnout since he's been in office. That record, 60 percent turnout, is currently held by the 1980 race between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter.
"It wouldn't surprise me if we get 85 percent turnout or more," said Milam. Turnout in Scott County in 2004 was about 68 percent.
Dana Fisher, deputy clerk in the New Madrid County Clerk's office, is gauging the interest in the election by the number of people coming in to register before today's deadline.
"It is absolutely amazing, the stack of cards that I have to put in the system," she said. "It is tremendously busy."
While the interest covers all ages, Fisher said the number of young voters -- particularly those born in 1989 and 1990 -- is the largest.
"I would say that between 85 and 90 percent are the young voters," Fisher continued. "I usually don't have that many young voters, but I think a lot of the parents are encouraging it this year."
For those who haven't cast a ballot since the November 2004 election, there will be a sight change this year -- straight party ballots are no longer an option. That option, which allowed voters to check a single box for the political party of their preference instead of having to mark off each individual partisan race, was outlawed in 2006.
DeLay said that, in Mississippi County, there shouldn't be a big problem, as the straight party voting had "almost become a thing of the past." The rule was in effect in the November 2006 election, he and Milam noted, but neither county usually has a large number of straight party tickets cast.
In New Madrid County, on the other hand, quite a few ballots were cast that way in 2005, said Fisher. She said that some people who have received absentee ballots have commented on the change.
"They say 'Oh, you mean I just can't mark one thing,'" she said.
Scott County voters will see another change this election, as scanning machines will be used.
"When you receive your ballot, you must complete the arrows then feed it into the scanner to be counted," explained Milam. "If you have voted your ballot correctly, then the number should change on the front of the machine. If for some reason you didn't vote it correctly, the scanner will not accept your ballot and the printed tape will tell you what is wrong with it."
Milam said reasons a ballot may not be accepted include voting for more than one person in the same race or not completing the arrow properly. If a ballot isn't accepted, poll workers can issue another ballot. She noted that voters do not have to vote in every race or for every question if they do not wish to. "The scanner will count only the races or the questions that you voted for," she said.
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The county clerks also provided some other advice for those coming to the polls. It includes:
Identification is required before one can cast their ballot. Acceptable forms include the pink voter notification card received earlier this year, a driver's or non-driver's license, a passport, school ID or copy of a bank statement, utility bill, paycheck or government check that contains the name and address.
With political T-shirts so popular, voters are reminded they are not allowed to wear those -- or any kind of campaign material -- within 25 feet of the entrance of that polling place. If someone walks in wearing that attire, they will be asked to leave and a ballot will not be given until the individual has changed clothing.
Those who are in the military, incapacitated, college students or not able to vote on election day for some reason can vote absentee. To do so, they can contact their respective county clerk's office for a form or send a signed, written request to that office. The final day to mail out an absentee ballot is Oct. 29. Absentee voting will also take place in each Courthouse from 8 a.m. to noon Nov. 1.
This year's ballot is two pages and includes quite a few races and propositions. It will be printed in area newspapers prior to the election, but anyone who would like a copy to review and research some of the contests can request one from their county clerk's office.
Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Nov. 4.
Anyone with other questions can call or visit their respective county clerk's office. Numbers are: Scott County, 573-545-3549; Mississippi County, 573-683-2146 ext. 221 or 223; and New Madrid County, 573-748-2524.