Special election turnout 'low,' says county clerk

Sep 9, 2012 By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

Turnout for the Sept. 11 special mail-ballot election was about 41 percent as of Friday, compared to 55 percent in the Aug. 21 contest. The special election is for the Fremont County Commission District 2 Republican seat.

Fremont County Clerk Julie Freese said her office had received 1,262 ballots as of about 3:45 p.m. Friday, compared to 1,710 in District 2 for last month's primary election.

"That is a 41 percent turnout as of today which surprises me," Freese said. "That is low."

She said she thought people who didn't vote in the Aug. 21 primary would take advantage of the opportunity.

The ballots returned to her office will likely increase leading up to the Sept. 11 evening deadline for voters. "They just need to get it done," Freese said.

The county canvassing board consisting of Freese, Republican Party member Darlene Vaughan and Democrat Sally Rowe decided Aug. 23 to have the special election after determining a "material error" happened in the primary race.

The commission District 2 contest in the 18-1 Big Bend precinct had 30 ballots given out to voters who should not have voted in the race -- the material error determined by the canvassing board.

GOP voters registered in the north Fremont County commission district as of the primary will determine the winner in the Sept. 11 run-off between incumbent Dennis Christensen and second-place challenger Larry Allen.

Unofficial primary results put Christensen on top with 541 votes compared to Allen with 521. Challengers Tim Salazar received 481 votes and Richard Denke earned 147, according to initial results.

Using state statutes governing elections and advice from Fremont County Attorney Brian Varn, the canvassing board decided the top two candidates separated by a 20-vote margin should be in the special election.

Even by removing 30 votes from Christensen, the results still place the third- and fourth-place candidates as "clear losers" in the race, with Salazar 40 votes behind Allen, Freese said.

The error resulted in Freese's office mailing 3,095 ballots to registered Republican voters in District 2 on Aug. 27. Those ballots must be returned by 7 p.m. Sept. 11 to the election office at the courthouse in Lander.

Freese said she could not have a special election for the 18-1 Big Bend area, because the law forbids it. The question was raised in a recent letter to the editor published in The Ranger.

"Not that I don't agree with what he's saying, but there are some things we will have to work with the Legislature on," she said. "Everything we've been doing is according to what the statutes say."

The special election is just a mail ballot; voters cannot go to the polls Sept. 11.

The mail ballot election will cost the county about $5,000, compared to opening the polls throughout District 2 at a price tag of $6,000 in labor, which does not include the cost of food, mileage, ballots, advertising and other expenditures, Freese said.

"So it's almost double to open the polls," she said. "I choose to try to save the county some money."

She strongly urges anyone who thinks they should have a ballot but has not received one to contact the election office at 332-1089.

"We are receiving ballots back from the post office undeliverable," Freese said. "The statute says they cannot be forwarded, so if you haven't changed your address with us, we are required to send it to your last known address."

"The only people who can get a ballot here in our office is if you lost it, spoiled it, destroyed it, never got it," she said. "You can't register to vote on Tuesday at the courthouse and say, 'Give me a ballot.' You had to qualify on the primary election day already."

Voters without a ballot have until 4 p.m. Sept. 11 to get one from the Lander election office and 5 p.m. to return it. People with a mailed ballot have until 7 p.m. to return it to the Lander office.

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