Clay County had a little lower than usual turnout for the election yesterday at about 30 percent. Numbers are usually higher for a presidential election. However, those numbers can be a little misleading since the Motor Voter Law of 1995.
Basically, that law allowed voters to be able to register to vote at easily accessible places such as the license branch and welfare offices. The law also changed the way the election board can and can not purge names from the registration poll.
Only after a person is declared an inactive voter and does not vote in two general elections, can their name be taken off the registration list. However, the Motor Voter Law narrowly restricts how a voter can be declared inactive.
It's possible that people who don't live in the district any longer or even deceased persons may have their names left on the voter registration poll indefinitely. The election office must have specific documentation to purge names.
Previously if a resident didn't vote in two general elections they were deemed ineligible and had to register again before they could vote. That's no longer the rule. A registered voter can vote in any election regardless of when he or she last voted.
Because of the Motor Voter Law and the limitations placed on purging names from the registration list, the number of registered voters is inflated which effects the percentages.
In the last three presidential primary elections the total of votes cast, the number of Clay County registered voters and the turnout percentages were:
1992 1996 2000
Total 5,138 7,079 6,408
Registered voters 13,678 15,299 17,843
Turnout % 37.56% 46.27% 35.91%
Election Deputy Beth Mallinak said with the inflated numbers on the rolls, however, the percentages may not reflect an accurate picture.
"There were 6,408 votes cast or 35.91 percent of the vote in 2000," Mallinak said. That was with 17,843 registered voters. This year there are about 19,300 registered voters listed. If the same number of people, 6,408, cast votes that would be just 33 percent. Unfortunately, the 19,300 given is not an accurate count of actual eligible, registered voters in Clay County
Mallinak thinks the paperwork needed to purge the polls and get a reasonably accurate registration count would probably be too costly to do at this time. However, that may be a project the election board will pursue later when the budget warrants it.
"To change the method of purging the polls has to be done by law through legislation," Mallinak said. "The legislatures want to do it in such a way that it doesn't penalize the voters."