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Absentee ballot count shows high election interest

Lincoln County voters who plan to be out of the county duringthe Nov. 4 general election are taking care of business early thisyear.

Lincoln County Circuit Clerk Terry Lynn Watkins said almost1,100 absentee ballots have been requested so far, andapproximately 800 of those have been marked and returned to heroffice. She expects the number of absentee voters to grow to 2,000before the election is held.

“We’re doing really well – we always have a bigger turnout allaround for presidential elections,” Watkins said.

If Watkins’ predictions come true, this year’s number ofabsentee voters will trump 2004’s impressive absentee turnout of1,800. She said last year’s non-presidential election absenteenumbers reached between 600 and 700.

There is still time remaining for those who wish to vote viaabsentee ballot to do so, but it’s running out, Watkins said.Absentee ballots have to be mailed to the voters, filled out andreturned, and the election is only two weeks away.

“You’re really taking a chance when you mail them,” Watkinssaid. “If someone needs an absentee ballot sent to them, they needto call us by Saturday – no later than Monday.”

The courthouse will be open Saturday and the following Saturday- Nov. 1 – for those who wish to vote absentee at the circuitclerk’s office.

But voters can’t just grab an absentee ballot and skip the pollson Nov. 4 because it’s the popular thing to do. There arerestrictions on the reasons for voting absentee, and those reasonsmust be marked on the ballot.

College students, offshore workers and nursing home residents -those who are regularly out of pocket or unable to get to the polls- constitute the majority of the county’s absentee voters, Watkinssaid.

The polls are still an option, however.

Watkins said those who vote absentee and have a change of plansthat leaves them in the county and able on Nov. 4 may still attendthe polls and vote normally. Doing do will result in the originalabsentee ballot being stamped, “Rejected – voted in person.”

Since absentee ballots aren’t counted until after the pollsclose at 7 p.m. on Election Day, Watkins said vote counters cancheck the poll books listing everyone who voted throughout the dayagainst the names on the absentee ballots. Polls workers areprovided with lists of everyone who votes in person and by absenteeballot at each precinct.

The lists ensure no voter is allowed to vote twice, Watkinssaid. The process begins at the polling place before the opening at7 a.m., when the count is at zero, and the total number of votersis tallied periodically throughout the day.

“The number of votes we come up with has to match the numberregistered at each precinct,” she said.

With such processes, absentee voting is a fairly safe endeavor,but voting via affidavit ballot carries more risk.

Watkins said the main reason for affidavit ballots being issuedis in case of error – voters being registered at the wrongprecincts or showing up at the wrong precincts. Either way, if avoter insists on voting at the wrong precinct, they do so viaaffidavit ballot.

If the voter is in the wrong precinct because of a registrationerror on the county’s behalf, the ballot is counted.

If the voter is in the wrong precinct because of personal error,the affidavit ballot is tossed out and the vote doesn’t count.

Any time a voter has to vote via affidavit ballot, correctionalforms are mailed out to place the voter in the right precinctbefore the next election.

“If the ballot is voided, there’s a reason listed,” Watkinssaid. “But the majority of affidavit ballots are counted. A votercan actually call us the day after the election to see if theirvote was counted.”