Weatherford Democrat

February 29, 2008

Parker County voters poised to break record

Early voting totals approach 10,000 for first time in recent memory

Galen Scott

Poll sites swarmed with voters into the evening Friday, as the last day of early voting for the March 4 joint primary elections drew to a close.

Approximately 10,000 people, or one-seventh of all the registered voters in Parker County, visited one of six early voting locations in what may be the largest early vote turnout for a primary election in the county’s history.

Based on a cursory look at historical voting records and the collective memory of 20- and 30-year veteran election workers, acting Parker County Elections Administrator Robert Parten said this year marks the highest primary turnout for both Republicans and Democrats.

“It looks like by the end of today, we’re going to be right at 10,000 votes,” Parten said Friday afternoon. “That’s a lot.”

While considering the best allocation of voting resources for the joint primary, Parten said he planned for 50 percent voter turnout, much higher than the 26-30 percent prediction he said came from the state Friday.

“The way I set this up was, ‘Okay, what if this is the biggest primary in the history of this county?’ I based it on 50 percent turnout, which I knew in the beginning was going to be high, but if you’re going to be wrong, you need to be wrong on the good side,” he said.

Based on 720 total minutes during the 12-hour period polls are open on election day, and the time it takes the average voter to make up his or her mind, Parten allocated seven voting machines for voting precincts with more than 2,000 registered voters.

Precincts with fewer registered voters will have proportionately fewer voting machines, and a number will be reserved as back-ups.

Thanks to Parker County’s tradition of holding joint primary elections, there are more voting machines available in counties where the contests are held separately, Parten noted.

Most Parker County precincts will be staffed with one election judge from each political party and two volunteer election clerks. A few of the county’s biggest voting precincts have a fifth worker dedicated.

Parten is willing to hire more workers if turnout necessitates them. He said it would be ridiculous to encourage people to turn out, and then not be ready to handle it.

“If you get to the point to where you need extra people, I don’t care if you’ve got five already — you hire them,” he said of his instructions to election judges. “We’re not going to have an election that is detrimental because it’s not staffed properly.”

In the state’s Democratic Party’s primary, Sen. Hillary Clinton is fighting an all-out battle with fellow White House hopeful Barack Obama for the state’s 228 national delegates. Because 67 of those delegates are awarded at precinct conventions — sometimes called caucuses — both candidates are imploring voters to participate after they vote.

“There is considerable interest in the precinct conventions that you don’t normally hear about, based on some of the activity we’ve been hearing, that we don’t normally hear about in an election,” Parten said.

Given the unusually high early voting numbers, election workers say turnout on March 4, election day, is anybody’s guess.

On one hand, this year’s early voting momentum could be a harbinger for election day. On the other hand, if everyone who intends to vote already has, Parker County’s 43 election day poll sites could be quiet this Tuesday.

During a press conference earlier in the week, State Democratic Party Chair Boyd Richie told reporters, “I will be shocked and stunned if it is not a new record for Texas.”

The vast majority of Parker County’s early voters cast ballots in the Republican primary. However, numbers in the Democratic are significantly higher, compared to previous elections, according to elections staff.

Parten declined to speculate on whether or not high-profile presidential candidates Clinton and Obama are enticing Republican voters to cross over and vote in the Democratic primary.