Voter turnout could be high this year normal

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 12, 2003

Penny Jiles has been a regular at the polls for decades.

"I do it just so I can voice my opinion," the 59-year-old Ironton resident said. "If I didn't vote, I shouldn't voice my opinion. Because I do vote, I should be able to voice my opinion."

When Jiles goes to vote in the 2003 election, she may have a longer wait at the polls.

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According to information from the Lawrence County Board of Elections, 39,772 people were registered to vote in the county as of early Friday afternoon. The number of registered voters has increased by 679 people since June. Between April and June, 175 voters registered .

A clear desk has been a rarity for Board of Elections Director Mary Wipert.

"It's been wild," she said.

Many voters who have been absent from the polls in the past may come out this year as well. Wipert said several people have come into the office to register, only to discover that they are still registered. However, some of those people may believe that because they have missed one election, they are no longer registered to vote, she said.

The board has also received 1,177 requests for absentee ballots. That number is higher than average, Wipert said. Only two people requesting those ballots are military personnel, who tend to be more interested in presidential elections, she said.

This influx of people registering to vote, coupled with crowded fields in some races, could result in high voter turnout this year, Wipert said. In the 2001 election, voter turnout was 42 percent.

"We're expecting kind of a heavy vote," she said.

Every mayor's office, every village and township clerk's and several township trustees' and board of education members' positions will be on the ballot. Voters will make the call Nov. 4.

The Fairland Board of Education race, which has nine candidates running for two seats and two candidates running for one expired seat, is the most crowded field. Wipert said this may be the result of lingering controversy from last year's strike. However, the Chesapeake school district does not have much controversy, and five candidates are running for three seats.

"Opposition usually brings out more people," she said.

The possibility of increased taxes may also be a factor. In Elizabeth and Windsor townships, a 1-mil fire protection levy is on the ballot. These levies, Wipert said, will raise taxes. Three renewal levies are also on the ballot: the Collins Career Center 1/2-mil levy, the village of South Point's 3-mil operating expense levy and Rome Township's 1-mil fire levy. Because they are renewal levies, they will not raise taxes if they pass. They will only keep tax rates at their current levels.

According to Wipert, most people going to the polls are elderly. Politics is usually the last thing on a young person's mind. By the time people reach their 40s, they usually become more interested in voting. Wipert's daughters are in their 30s, and have very little interest in voting, she said.

Coal Grove resident Misty Wilson, 26, agreed that most people her age have little interest in voting. Nevertheless, she is a regular at voting booths.

"You don't have an opinion on what goes on if you don't vote," she said.

Regardless of voter registration influxes and some crowded fields, voter behavior in this election is still too close to call.

"We can't read people anymore," she said. "Some people may be tired of the same old routines. Maybe Lawrence County's economic problems and unemployment may convince people that they need changes. Then, they may think that it will not help either way. They may even say, 'It's raining.'"