Cape County officials test election equipment

Thursday, March 23, 2006

If absentee ballots are any indication, there won't be much of a turnout on April 4.

For two and a half hours Wednesday, Cape Girardeau County election officials fed ballots into portable vote counting machines. But the automatic tally produced no winners or losers. It was only a test for the April 4 election.

County Clerk Rodney Miller and elections supervisor Patty Schlosser tested the machines under the scrutiny of two election judges as required by law.

Miller and Schlosser tested 24 ballot-counting machines in the basement of the county administration building in Jackson, printing out a paper record of each ballot tabulation.

Once tested, they sealed up the front of each machine to prevent access to the memory card in each device.

Even the vote-counting machine for absentee ballots had to be tested. Schlosser fed 153 different ballots through that machine.

"April is a little more complicated than other elections, "Schlosser said. "You have so many combinations."

They include candidates for municipal governments as well as school boards.

The test ballots included ones where too many votes were cast and ones were not enough votes were cast for candidates. In both cases, the machines -- each about the size of a long, narrow file drawer -- rejected the ballots as improperly cast.

Each machine printed vote totals from a small spool of paper housed in the device. Election judges then looked over the results before signing off on each printout.

Miller wouldn't predict voter turnout. But he said it's typically low in April elections.

In April 2005, 19.68 percent of county's registered voters went to polls. A tax issue in the Jackson School District sparked higher than usual turnout, election officials said.

In April 2004, by contrast, only 6.1 percent of the county's registered voters went to the polls.

In the city of Cape Girardeau, contested races for school board and city council, and proposed charter government amendments could draw voters to the polls this April, Miller said.

Cape Girardeau County has more than 49,000 registered voters, but only 38,142 are eligible to vote in the April election. Some voters are in school districts where no elections are being held, county officials said.

Under state law, school districts don't have to hold elections when there are no contested races for school board.

Election officials have decided to combine some voting precincts for the April election because of a lack of contested races. Byrd 1, 2 and 3 precincts in Jackson will vote at the Byrd 4 polling place at the American legion Hall, Miller said.

If absentee ballots are any judge, voters aren't focused on the April election.

As of Wednesday, only 50 people had cast absentee ballots. Schlosser said, "That's way down."

It's not uncommon to have several hundred voters cast absentee ballots in Cape Girardeau County elections, she said.

Absentee voting began on Feb. 21.

Voters can vote absentee in person at the county clerk's offices in Cape Girardeau and Jackson until 5 p.m. on April 3.

The deadline for requesting absentee ballots by mail is March 29.

Schlosser said election officials will count any mailed absentee ballot received before or on election.

The county clerk's office typically receives some filled out ballots in the mail on election day, she said.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, ext. 123

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