Wednesday, November 01, 2000

Voter registration at record peak

But record turnout not expected

By Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — More people than ever are registered to vote in Greater Cincinnati, Ohio and Kentucky. But that doesn't guarantee voters will stampede polling places Tuesday.

        About 69 percent of a record 7.5 million registered Ohioans and up to 65 percent of Kentucky's record 2.5 million voters are expected to vote in the Nov. 7 election.

        Though high for recent years, both estimates fall short of 1992 voter turnouts of 77 percent in Ohio and 73 percent in Kentucky.

        Election officials in Greater Cincinnati say their records are inflated with thousands of inactive voters who will water down turnout rates. Carlo LoParo, spokesman for Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth J. Blackwell, said that means this year's turnout rates may be misleading.

        “We estimate 5.2 million Ohioans will turn out to vote on Nov. 7,” Mr. LoParo said.

        “In our best turnout recently, in 1992, we had 5 million people going to the polls.”

        Kentucky Secretary of State John Y. Brown expects a poor showing among 500,000 or so people who registered through state drivers license and social services offices. The registrations were made possible by a federal law intended to increase turnout.

        “The motor-voter law has been hugely successful in registering people,” Mr. Brown said. “The problem is many of these people tend not to be in the habit of voting, at least not at the same level as traditional voters.”

        In Ohio, county election officials say that same law has made it harder to delete voters who may have moved away.

        “We cannot remove anybody, unless they write us,” said Donald S.Travis, director of elections for Clermont County. “I know two people down my street who've moved to Hamilton County, but they're still on the books here.”

        Mr. Travis said his county's projected 65 percent turnout is inaccurate because it mixes inactive and active voters.

        The problem is just as great in Hamilton, Butler and Warren counties. Despite inflated registration numbers, election officials in those counties are predicting turnouts of 75 percent or more.

        Julie Stautberg, Hamilton County's director of elections, bases her 77 percent prediction on an open race for the White House and a high number of ballots already turned in by absentee voters.

        “There are a lot of people who only choose to vote in presidential elections,” Ms. Stautberg said. “You have to take that into consideration.”

        A 79 percent turnout would not be unreasonable in Warren County, said Election Director Beverly Moore. Officially, her office expects that 76 percent of the county's 96,536 eligible residents will vote.

        “There's no incumbent president, and we've got 30 (local) issues on the ballot,” Ms. Moore said. “If it's a nice day, I'm expecting large turnouts.”

        Voter interest and participation in elections generally has declined over the years, resulting in record low turnouts of 34.5 percent in Ohio and 20.4 percent in Kentucky last November.

        Turnout predictions aren't always accurate, either. The Ohio secretary of state called for a much higher 42 percent turnout for last year's elections.

        “That was an unusual election,” Mr. LoParo said. “We use a pretty solid and reliable model to estimate turnout. It's typically fairly accurate, within two to three percentage points.”


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