Registration up, turnout down in Washington County

Gary B. Gray • Nov 7, 2012 at 9:50 PM

The total number of registered voters in Washington County increased significantly this year compared to the 2008 presidential election, but fewer voters actually turned out.

Also, there is an obviously increasing trend here for people to vote early. When comparing percentages of those voting early and those voting on Election Day, early voting topped the latter by nearly 10 percent.

Washington County Administrator of Elections Maybell Stewart said there was a record number of address changes that had to be dealt with on Election Day, most of these resulting from people moving within the county. Meanwhile, the message about bringing a photo ID apparently got out. Of the more than 48,000 total voters, only two showed up without it; one during early voting; another on Election Day.

“More people wanted to register, but I really don’t know why they didn’t turn out to vote,” Stewart said. “I think the fact that people can vote absentee at age 60 now instead of 65 increased that category of voters. And basically, I think people voted early because they wanted to beat the crowds.”

Early voting numbers show the majority of people chose to vote either early or by absentee ballot. Nearly 55 percent of all voters did so, an increase of just more than 2 percent from the last presidential election. However, the number of people choosing to vote on Election Day dropped by nearly 6 percent.

Compared to the 2008 election, the total vote count was down by nearly 900. But the total number of active and inactive voters in Washington County — the total number of people eligible to vote — rose from 70,005 to 74,354, or about 5.8 percent.

Inactive voters remain on the rolls until they have not voted in two consecutive November presidential elections or it cannot be determined whether they are at the same address, as well as other factors. But until that time, these people are included in the total number of voters — the total pool of possible voters.

Stewart also said election workers experienced a record number of people walking into polling places and expecting their names to be on the rolls but finding otherwise.

“I don’t know the numbers, but I do know we were on the phone all day — five of us — doing address changes,” she said. “They had just moved and not changed their addresses, and most of these were people who had moved within the county. I’ve worked here for 10 years and never seen this.”

When this happened, voters had to fill out “fail safe” forms at the precinct. A person called a fail safe judge calls the Election Commission office and informs them of the person’s current address. The address is verified and the correct precinct location is then relayed to the voter who may either stay and vote at the place they arrived at, or they must go to the correct precinct.

“They are not turned away,” she said. “But they cannot vote until the correct precinct is verified. All things considered, it really went pretty smooth.”

Finally, the matter of having to present a photo ID turned out not to be a problem for either voters or poll workers.

“We had two people: one during early voting and one on Election Day,” she said. “They went ahead and voted on provisional ballots, but they must present us with a valid ID within two days. In this case, both brought back their identification the same day.”

The Washington County Election Commission must certify Tuesday’s results by Nov. 26, according to state law.

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