Saturday, May 22, 1999

Light turnout expected for primary

Voters turn off campaign

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — What if they gave a primary and nobody came?

        The turnout won't be quite that bad for Tuesday's statewide primary in Kentucky. But with a slim ballot, candidates who have campaigned very little in Northern Kentucky and a general disinterest from the electorate, there could one of the lowest turnouts in years.

        “We might even have a negative turnout,” joked Kenton County Clerk Bill Aylor. “People will show up at the polls Tuesday, see there's nothing on the ballot they care about and turn around and go home.”

        Only two contested races — Republican governor and Democratic state treasurer — are on the statewide ballot. Neither has generated much interest in Northern Kentucky, mainly because the candidates have done little or no campaigning or fund-raising in this part of the state.

        The races and candidates are:

        • Republican gubernatorial primary between Peppy Martin, a publicist and tobacco grower from Hart County, and David L. Williams, a utility contractor from Columbia. Mrs. Martin has done very little campaigning and has raised less than $10,000. Mr. Williams has done virtually no campaigning and has raised no money.

        • Democratic state treasurer between state Rep. Susan Johns of Louisville and Lexington lawyer Jonathan Miller. Though both are experienced campaigners, they have done little stumping in Northern Kentucky.

        The races don't appear to be inspiring voters, about half of whom stay away from the polls even in busy election years.

        Earlier this month in Hamilton County, only 18 percent of the voters turned

        out to vote.

        “People don't even know, or care, that there is a primary next week,” said Paul Hillenmeyer, 33, a vice president at Community First Bank in Grant County.

        “Usually around election time, people will come in the bank and talk about the candidates, but there's been none of that this time.”

        Mr. Hillenmeyer was one of about 100 Grant County residents who turned out Wednesday in Williamstown for a campaign visit from Gov. Paul Patton.

        Over the past three months Mr. Patton, First Lady Judi Patton and Lt. Gov. Steve Henry have visited all 120 counties to campaign. And Mr. Patton and Mr. Henry don't even have any competition in Tuesday's primary.

        “We're not taking any chances,” said Mr. Patton, using the lack of primary competition to build his campaign for the fall.

        “We're not taking anything for granted. We're not taking this county for granted,” he said. “But we don't want you to take the election for granted, either. And we hope during the summer that you'll pass that message on to people that you talk to and tell them how important it is to go out and vote on November the second.”

        Dry Ridge resident Jean Myers, 69, said other than the visit from Mr. Patton, there has been no indication that an election is about to be held.

        “Until today we haven't seen or heard from any of the candidates,” Mrs. Myers said. “There are no signs, nobody campaigning. It's like it's not even happening.”

        Her husband, 70-year-old Wayne Myers, a Grant County pollworker, said the county clerk's office is expecting a record low turnout.

        “We might be down in the single digits.”

        Secretary of State John Y. Brown III said he expects a high of 10 to 12 percent, making it the lowest turnout in the last 50 years.

        “It could go lower, though,” Mr. Brown said. “There just hasn't been that much media coverage of the races and people just aren't on top of what's going on, nor is there much of the ballot to vote for.

        “By statute, I'm supposed to be a cheerleader to get the vote out, but I can't tell you with a straight face that there will be a big turnout Tuesday,” he said.

        Kentucky has about 2,540,000 registered voters and 3,314 voting precincts. The election will cost taxpayers about $3 million, Mr. Brown said.

        In Kenton County, the election will cost about $60,000. Mr. Aylor said the turnout could be less than 5 percent, which would be the lowest ever in the region's largest county.

        “Before the November election, we had about 500 absentee ballots, which is a lot, and that was a busy election,” Mr. Aylor said.

        “As of (Thursday), we have 11. That says a lot about what the turnout will be,” he said.

        Boone County Clerk Marilyn Rouse is a little more optimistic, saying turnout could hit 10 percent.

        In Campbell County, Clerk Jack Snodgrass said he'll be surprised if 10 percent of the voters show up to cast ballots.

        “There's nothing on the ballot for either side to whoop and holler about,” Mr. Snodgrass said.


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