Heavy voter turnout projected

Sunday, November 5, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:46 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A heated U.S. Senate race, a series of contentious ballot issues and close contests for state representative seats will combine to produce one of the biggest midterm election turnouts ever in Boone County, County Clerk Wendy Noren said.

Noren estimated that as many as 60,000 voters, or 71 percent of active voters, will cast ballots on Tuesday. By comparison, the 2002 midterm turnout was about 50 percent.

James Endersby, associate professor of political science at MU, expects the turnout will be “pretty much average.” He said he doesn’t think ballot issues regarding stem cell research, higher taxes on tobacco or the minimum wage will draw extra voters to the polls.

If there’s an exception, Endersby said, it will be Amendment 2, the stem cell initiative.

“The influence of social issues (on voting trends) tends to rise and fall,” he said. “The stem cell initiative may strike a nerve with many voters this season because of its central role in the (U.S.) Senate race and because of the fundamental questions it asks about when life begins.”

Endersby said this year’s turnout will be largely driven by both loyalty and disdain for the Republican Party. The GOP faithful is likely to turn out in force, he said, while those who intensely dislike what Republicans have done in recent years will probably match them.

For a second time, Boone County voters will have the option of using electronic voting machines, even though there were problems with the paper trails when the machines debuted in August. Of all the ballots cast in electronic voting machines in August, 60 percent left no paper trail because of paper jams.

In the weeks leading up to the election, Noren has trained election volunteers to be more observant with the machines so problems can be corrected quickly and to troubleshoot problems if and when they arise.

Even without a paper trail, however, the voting machines keep internal electronic records so that ballot tallies can be tested for accuracy.

Although the machines proved popular in the August primary, there will still be only one machine per polling station, Noren said.

“Until we get really good standards and testing at the federal level, I’m not interested in getting any more,” she said.

High stakes for Congress

Political analysts are calling this midterm election the Democrats’ best chance since 1992 to gain control of both houses of the U.S. Congress. Democrats need six seats in the Senate and 15 in the House to regain control.

Missouri is one of a handful of states with races too close to call. The close race between Republican incumbent Sen. Jim Talent and Democratic opponent Claire McCaskill, the state auditor, has put Missouri in the national spotlight, causing a flurry of bitter and negative advertising. Recent polls show the contest is a virtual dead heat.

Tennessee, New Jersey and Virginia also have Senate races in which candidates are within the margin of error in major polls. In Minnesota, Ohio, Montana, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, meanwhile, the races are all leaning slightly Democratic.

There are 17 House races across the country that are too close to call, according to the New York Times. Not included in those races is the 9th House District, in which Democrat Duane Burghard, Progressive Party candidate Bill Hastings and Libertarian Steven Hendrick are challenging Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof.

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