More than three-quarters of Cape Girardeau County voters expected to turn out at polls

Sunday, November 2, 2008
Joel Rhodes of Cape Girardeau goes door to door Saturday with his children Olivia, 11, left, and Ella, 4, to encourage people to vote for Sen. Barack Obama on Tuesday.

The barrage of door knocking, phone calls, text messages, radio, television and newspaper advertisements, spam e-mails and pop-up ads is almost over. Tuesday is Election Day.

County clerks in Southeast Missouri report strong interest and high voter registrations. In Cape Girardeau County, absentee voting could be up as much as 40 percent from 2004, County Clerk Kara Clark said Friday.

"I am expecting about an 85 percent turnout," Clark said. "People are just getting out to vote in this election."

If turnout meets that projection, the total vote in Cape Girardeau County will increase by 8,000 over 2004 to about 42,500.

Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan predicts 76 percent turnout, which would result in a statewide total of 3.2 million votes. There are 340,000 first-time voters on the rolls.

While going door to door for the Republican campaign, Dave Morris of Cape Girardeau shows Andlle Naeter of Cape Girardeau that she is on the voter list.

In other area counties, absentee voting has increased, but by a far smaller amount, election officials said.

For people who might have missed that the election is almost here, rival teams from Republican headquarters and Democrats supporting Barack Obama for president spent Saturday going door to door and calling voters to remind them.

Election officials are looking at ways to make the voting go smoothly. The ballot includes the White House, governor, congressional and state legislative contests, county offices, judicial retention votes and five statewide ballot measures.

"The biggest thing, probably and this applies to all counties, is that it is a very lengthy ballot," said Randy Taylor, county clerk for Perry County. "It is going to take them awhile in the booth."

To keep the lines moving, Clark is sending laptop computers to each polling station to help election judges verify voter registrations if names don't show up in the printed voter rolls. And she will put out more booths for voters to mark their ballots.

The presidential election has been the focus of nonstop coverage from the national cable news networks since before January. Election officials locally said the contest between Obama, a Democratic U.S. senator from Illinois, and U.S. Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, is drawing by far the most interest.

But candidates seeking legislative seats, county offices and statewide offices are also working for voters' attention. In Cape Girardeau County, two county commission seats are up for grabs. The one gaining the most attention is in District 2, where incumbent Jay Purcell seeks to hold off independent candidate Rock Finch.

Purcell contends Finch is part of a plot by powerful interests to silence him. He's using television ads featuring sound bites from a conversation he secretly recorded with Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones in which Jones said he was "supposed to report back" to unnamed people about Purcell's willingness to remain silent on several issues.

Purcell's opponents, meanwhile, have used terms like "skunk," and Finch has said the conduct of commissioners this year is "buffoonery."

District 2 includes most of the area within Cape Girardeau city limits. The rest of the county will choose a commissioner for District 1, where Republican Paul Koeper and Democrat Marvin McMillan have maintained cordial campaigns.

Final voter registration numbers from Cape Girardeau, adjusted as the last new registrations were entered and voters who moved their registrations were removed, shows 51,499 people on the lists, up about 3.5 percent from 2006. But a precinct-by-precinct breakdown Clark provided Friday shows that the increase is not spread evenly across the county.

Two of the three largest increases by precinct are in Jackson, where the two precincts that vote at Jackson Junior High School have recorded 18.1 percent and 11.8 percent growth in registrations respectively. Those voters live on the west side of Jackson where homebuilding has been occurring at a brisk pace.

The second-, fourth- and fifth-largest increases in voter registration, by percentage, took place in precincts that vote at the Red Star Baptist Church, the Cape Church of Christ on South West End Boulevard and the House of Hope on South Ranney Avenue in Cape Girardeau.

'Mostly presidential' talk

Usually, when area county clerks talk about what is driving voters, it is split between hot local races and national politics. But Diane Holzum, clerk of Bollinger County, said voters who are talking about local races are the exception.

"It is mostly presidential, I would say," Holzum said. "Although we do have some races locally."

One of the races that will be watched from outside the area is the 156th District Missouri House contest. Reliably Republican in past years, it is the seat of House Speaker Rod Jetton, who is barred from running again by term limits.

His legislative aide, Shelley Keeney, is fighting a well-funded challenge from Democratic nominee Michael Winder of Marquand, who is making his second bid for the job.

If Republicans lose the seat, it could be a sign that the GOP will lose control of the Missouri House of Representatives. A shift of 12 seats will give Democrats the majority.

A handful of people have already found out they will not be able to vote because they registered too late, Clark said.

"They are upset," she said. "We try to do everything we can to locate them or try to find out if they are registered somewhere. They just didn't get here by the deadline."


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