Clerk expects low voter turnout

Only 60 percent of the city’s polling places will be used.
Sunday, November 6, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:49 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 10, 2008

Columbians will perform their civic duty Tuesday when they decide the fate of five city tax proposals and a sixth ballot question that seeks a higher municipal charge on new development. As voters arm themselves with information, Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren and her staff are arming themselves with the tools necessary to ensure a smooth election.

“We’re only using 60 percent of our polling places, and it’s certainly one of the easiest elections we’ve had in the last five years,” Noren said.

In Boone County, only voters in Columbia and Sturgeon will be casting ballots. Sturgeon is asking for a half-cent sales tax for its two-person police department.

Noren said there have been relatively few problems so far but warned that a smooth election is not guaranteed.

“We never expect that,” Noren said. “It only takes one problem to blow up in your face.”

Such problems can include errors in ballot counting, misinformed poll workers or technical issues.

“We try to have a good system, but human beings make mistakes,” Noren said.

Noren expects 7,000 to 15,000 voters to turn out. Publicity, she said, will make the difference.

“There hasn’t been a lot of discourse, and if that continues, we’ll have a low turnout,” Noren said.

There are two groups that have invested time and money in an effort to educate the public about the election. And if money is the deciding factor, there is a clear victor.

Campaign finance reports filed with Noren’s office on Oct. 28 show that Columbia on the Move, a 30-member group appointed by the mayor to encourage approval of the ballot issues, had raised nearly $14,000, the bulk of it from developers, contractors and bankers. Timely and Responsible Road Infrastructure Financing, or TARRIF, which opposes Propositions 4 and 5 but supports Proposition 6, had raised $3,786, the vast majority from its four primary members.

Whatever the outcome, both sides said they have done their best to inform residents of the issues.

“The public is having a conversation they haven’t had, and people are asking questions they normally wouldn’t,” TARRIF member Traci Wilson-Kleecamp said. “In this campaign, we’ve tried to elevate the debate, and that’s always good for the public.”

Dale Whitman, co-chairman of Columbia on the Move, said TARRIF lacks “a clear-cut message,” and thinks its campaign “won’t have much of a negative effect on the election.” His committee spent its money primarily on print and radio advertising.

“We’ve tried to approach this energetically, and I hope we’ve done all that needs to be done,” he said.

Whitman conceded that he would personally prefer to see an increase in property taxes because sales taxes hurt lower-income residents. But that decision, he said, is not up to him.

“Surveys indicate that people prefer increases in sales taxes rather than property taxes,” he said.

Wilson-Kleecamp said working on the election has been rewarding.

“This has been a great learning experience for everyone, and it’s good to offer people alternatives,” she said. “Win or lose, we engaged the public and raised issues.”

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