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Election: Voter turnout higher than usual across country

by Canda HarbaughWestern News
| November 9, 2009 11:00 PM

The county and municipal elections experienced substantial voter turnouts that election officials attribute to more contenders this year and the new application of mail-ballot elections.

Voter turnout usually hovers around 20 percent, according to assistant elections administrator Leigh Riggleman. Libby numbers were over 57 percent this election and Troy at 70 percent, with 51 percent of countywide voter participation.

Intense campaigning took over this fall as voters from all four of the county’s municipals – Troy, Libby, Eureka and Rexford – weighed in on contested mayoral races, council races or both.

“There’s enough contention in the races of all the cities that more people are interested,” said county clerk and recorder Tammy Lauer. “There are hardly ever this many people running in the elections.”

Eureka had only 38 voters in the 2007 municipal election in which council candidates ran unchallenged. This year in just the first four days of the month-long mail-in election, one-third of the town’s registered voters turned in 120 ballots. Eureka’s voter turnout shot up from 9 percent to 60 percent.

Lauer also attributed more voters this election to the adoption of mail-in elections.

“I knew we’d have more than we had in the past because it’s just more convenient to vote,” Lauer said.

Lauer had expected Lincoln County to correspond with other Montana counties, such as Yellowstone and Missoula, that have seen higher voter turnouts with mail-in elections.

“Historically, you just get a way better turnout,” Lauer said, “and I think we’ve discovered that here as well.”

Rexford’s voter turnout was nearly 82 percent, which Riggleman said is standard for the town that has performed mail-in elections for over a decade.

“Rexford always has a high turn-out because for the last 12-14 years they have done mail-in ballots,” Riggleman said. “They are very used to the mail-in elections.”