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Columbia Missourian

Sparse voter turnout at presidential primary polls

By Dan Burley
February 7, 2012 | 4:33 p.m. CST
A car leaves the parking lot of the Tiger Shrine Club on Blue Ridge Rd. in Columbia on Tuesday. The site was used as a polling location for the Missouri Republican Primary.

COLUMBIA — Columbia voters trickled into the Activity and Recreation Center on Tuesday as the Missouri presidential primary got under way.

Unusual circumstances underlie this election cycle's primary, election workers said.

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This year's Republican primary is nonbinding, which means it will do nothing to determine which candidate will get the state's electoral votes at the Republican National Convention. Instead, Republicans will decide that through a series of caucuses that begins March 17. The last GOP caucus that was used to allocate delegates happened in 1996.

That might explain the sparse voter turnout. Only 17 voters from Precincts 1F, 2E and 4D visited the polling place at the ARC between 6 and 8 a.m. By 4:30 p.m., 133 people had cast ballots at the ARC.

Last week, Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren predicted a total of 15,000 to 17,000 county voters would cast ballots today.

Cyndy Mehrer was among those who voted Tuesday morning. She said her sense of civic duty trumped her ambivalence toward the nonbinding primary process.

"I was torn about that this morning: Why come out when my candidate's not on the ballot?" Mehrer said, referring to Republican Newt Gingrich's absence from the Missouri ballot. "But I appreciate the procedures we have. The right to vote is precious."

John Rippey was working as an election judge at the ARC. He has worked eight  previous elections, including the presidential elections in 2004 and 2008.

Rippey likened the impact of voting to recycling. Although individual efforts might not count for much, he said, the cumulative effect is great.

"Each Coke bottle seems to be trivial with regard to the bigger picture," Rippey said. "But it counts. (Voting) feels virtuous. It gives me this image of myself as a citizen."

Some Republicans didn't mind the nonbinding vote. Archie Jackson, who was wearing an "I Voted" sticker, wanted to send a message to his legislators.

"I can't control the delegates vote," Jackson said. "But I can participate in the democratic process. It's my right. If you don't vote, you don't have the right to criticize."

Several petitioners lined the sidewalks outside the ARC, hoping to snag signatures from voters on initiatives they hope to see on the November ballot. One was collecting signatures for an initiative that would place restrictions on the payday loan industry; another was pushing a vote to legalize marijuana use for people 21 and older.

Anne Summers, who was campaigning for Republican candidate Ron Paul outside the ARC, said she was frustrated by the uselessness of the primary, which in Boone County will cost the state $200,000.

Summers said many of the people she encountered outside the polling place complained that the primary is a waste of money. The total bill statewide will be an estimated $7 million.

"It's an infuriating dog-and-pony show," Summers said.

The Missouri primary coincides with binding votes in Minnesota and Colorado.

Jackson said he cast a ballot for Republican candidate Rick Santorum, who was the only candidate who invested significant time campaigning in Missouri in the days leading up to the primary.

Although the Missouri ballot includes the names of 10 Republicans, Mitt Romney, Paul, Santorum and Gingrich are the only major names remaining in the national contest for the GOP nomination.

There also are four Democrats and one Libertarian on the Missouri ballot. Democrats, who are almost certainly going to renominate incumbent President Barack Obama, will use the results of the primary to allocate their electoral votes for the Democratic National Convention. Libertarians, however, will select electoral votes at their state convention.