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With record advance voting and high turnout, election deemed a success
new deh election wrap-up pic web
A sign denotes the Barton County Courthouse is an election polling place. The county saw record advance voting and high turnout in Tuesdays general election. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

 The boxes were being unpacked, the voting machines were being stored and a weary Barton County election staff was recovering from a grueling 2016 general election Tuesday.

But, “it was successful,” said Donna Zimmerman, county clerk and election officer. “We had a good voter turnout.”

The unofficial results posted Tuesday back this up with 10,280 of the county’s 17,427 registered voters cast ballots. That is a 58.99 percent voter turnout.

“We were very pleased,” Zimmerman said. “We were thrilled with that.”

There are still a handful of provisional ballots to be counted. These are votes cast at polling stations by qualified voters who registered at a polling place after having either moved or changed names since the last election.

When these are tallied, she said the turnout could be really close to 60 percent. By comparison, the number in 2012 was 60.1 percent.

Of those Barton County votes, about 3,000 were cast in advance. “That’s an all-time high for us,” Zimmerman said.

The last record was set a few years ago at 2,600. That was after advance voting was opened to all voters, not just those who were absentee, sick or disabled.

This year’s totals won’t be finalized until the Barton County commissioners canvass the votes at 8:30 a.m. Monday.

Looking back

As for the flow of the election, “always with an election, not everything is perfect,” Zimmerman said.

Things have changed, she said. “Years ago, we would not have been surprised to see 70 percent of the people vote.”

But, that figure can be deceiving, she said. When turnouts were this high, names were removed from the register if the person had not voted in the previous presidential election.

Since they were not listed in the register for the next election, they were not calculated into the turnout percentage, making it look higher. “The numbers are a little skewed,” Zimmerman said.

Today, it is more difficult to clean inactive voters from the records. Even though they haven’t voted recently, they can’t be “purged” from the system.

Now, if a voter doesn’t cast a ballot, they go through a confirmation mailing process. If they respond to the letter, their information is corrected and they remain on the register. But, if they don’t and don’t vote in the next two federal elections, they are removed.

This makes it more challenging to do list maintenance, Zimmerman said.

Also complicating the process are the so-called “motor voters” who were allowed to vote in this election and are now on the list. However, a pending court case may or may not impact their status for future elections.

Looking ahead

The Barton County Election Office’s 89 iVotronics machines were first used 2006. They did their jobs, but “they are starting to show their age,” Zimmerman said.

There were issues with power supplies and other minor snags. At 10 years old, “they have reached their shelf life,” she said.

But, she stressed that despite their age, the machines worked and she has the utmost confidence in them, and in their security and accuracy.

The county has and is considering replacing the devices. But, this is an expensive proposition that could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.