Cape Girardeau County turnout for today's vote may be low

Tuesday, February 3, 2004

Less than one-fifth of Cape Girardeau County's 46,863 registered voters are expected to go to the polls today in only the third presidential primary in the state's history. Statewide, less than one-fourth of the state's 3.6 million registered voters are expected to cast ballots.

Election officials and politics watchers say the late making of a race on the Democratic side and the lack of one for the Republicans are part of the reason the turnout is expected to be so low. Cape Girardeau County Clerk Rodney Miller, the county's chief elections officer, said many local voters aren't even aware there is an election.

"I had people ask me the other day, 'What election are you getting ready for?'" he said.

The national media barely mentioned the state's upcoming primary until U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri dropped out of the race last week. His withdrawal threw the primary open. Other Democratic candidates didn't start campaigning in Missouri until last week.

In addition, a planned Democratic presidential primary debate in St. Louis on Monday was canceled because of conflicting schedules, abbreviated preparation time and a winter storm that was forecast, state Democratic Party officials said.

Polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. at the same voting locations used in general elections. Voters can choose one of three ballots: Republican, Democratic or Libertarian.

On the Democratic side, there are 11 candidates on the ballot, though some already have withdrawn from the race.

Those listed are former Vermont governor Howard Dean, U.S. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, retired Gen. Wesley Clark, U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton, former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, Fern Penna and Lyndon LaRouche.

Little-known Republicans

President George W. Bush is assured of winning the Republican primary against two little-known candidates: Bill Wyatt, a self-described liberal Republican from California, and St. Louis businessman Blake Ashby, who opposes taxes and federal programs he blames for the nation's poor economy and expensive health-care system.

But the lack of a real battle in the Republican primary won't keep Tom Cox of Jackson from voting. Active in local GOP politics, Cox said he's tired of hearing Democratic candidates bash Bush.

Cox said he'll proudly vote for the president. "I am urging everybody to get out there and show their support," he said.

Few campaign visits to Missouri and the lack of any large-scale political advertising on television have left voters in the dark. "Here in Missouri we are a little bit in an information vacuum on candidates," said Dr. Rick Althaus, a political science professor at Southeast Missouri State University.

Active in local Democratic Party politics, Althaus said the local party faithful backed Gephardt.

"I don't know for sure what everybody's second choice will be," he said.

In addition to the Republican and Democratic contests, there's also a primary in the Libertarian Party involving radio host Gary Nolan of Ohio, N. Ruben Perez of Texas and musician Jeffrey Diket of Louisiana.

Missouri is one of five states that will hold primaries today. There will be caucuses in New Mexico and North Dakota.

In the Democratic primary, 74 convention delegates are up for grabs -- the largest delegate prize of any state to date in the nominating process.

Four years ago, fewer than one in four registered voters in most Southeast Missouri counties cast ballots in the primary. Only 9,790 people went to the polls in Cape Girardeau County, just over 21 percent of registered voters.

Missouri has little tradition when it comes to presidential primaries. Long a caucus state where delegates are chosen by active party members in counties and districts, Missouri held its first presidential primary in 1988. Its second was in March 2000.

At least $39,000

The presidential primary is expected to cost Missouri $3.7 million. The state already has mailed checks to county clerks to pay local expenses such as printing of ballots, advertising the election and hiring election judges.

The election, using punch-card ballots, is expected to cost over $39,000 in Cape Girardeau County, said local elections supervisor Patty Schlosser. If it ends up costing more, the county will send a bill to the state for the extra expense. If the election costs less, the county must refund the difference, she said.

Four of Cape Girardeau's precincts have been combined into two precincts, eliminating precincts 11 and 5.

Those who voted in precinct 11 have been moved into precinct 6 and will vote at Grace United Methodist Church. Those who voted at First Baptist Church will now vote in precinct 4 at Centenary United Methodist Church.

Schlosser said letters were sent to affected voters notifying them of the change.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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