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Local voter rolls swell

The intense interest in this election caused the number of new voters and the number of people casting early ballots to surge this fall in Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties.”We, like the rest of the nation, have had a slew of new registrations,” said Pitkin County Clerk Silvia Davis.There were 12,310 people registered to vote in Pitkin County at the August primary. Now there are 13,232, Davis said. The last day to register was Oct. 4, so 922 people registered in about two months.Registration prior to the primary was steady – about normal for a presidential election year, Davis said. The difference this year was the big surge after the August primary, she said. Eagle County started the summer with about 19,000 registered voters, according to Teak Simonton, the county clerk. Now there are about 20,500 registered.The newly registered voters tend to be “people who have been in Eagle County and now got interested,” Simonton said.Garfield County Clerk Mildred Alsdorf said about 1,000 of the county’s 29,400 registered voters were new. “Some people felt, ‘We have to get out and vote this year,'” she said.Tricia McKenzie, an Aspenite who helped register voters in the valley through the Rock the Vote program, said the organization processed about 2,000 new registrations and re-registrations for people who moved. The program is targeted primarily at young voters – and it worked. She said she witnessed a high level of interest in this election among young people.”I’ve just seen their level of passion,” she said. “I know they’re not apathetic.”Issues like college tuition, the possibility of a military draft, the war in Iraq and health care sparked interest, McKenzie said. Young voters want a voice on those issues, but they don’t necessarily want to get thoroughly involved in a political process they don’t support, she said.Rock the Vote started registering voters between Aspen and Rifle 14 months ago and “hit it hard” at the Winter X Games and numerous other events, as well as at places like the summer farmers market in Aspen and schools throughout the valley – “anywhere young people were going to be,” McKenzie said. “The key message we were trying to get out was politics as usual doesn’t have to be your politics.”Mick Ireland, a Pitkin County commissioner who is working to get Democrats to the polls, said the interest among young voters is already apparent in this election. The average age of voters in Pitkin County in the 2000 general election was almost 60, Ireland said. The average age of early and absentee voters this year was 51.2, according to his research using public records.For the first time in 15 years, the average age of voters in the county will drop this election, Ireland said. He credited Rock the Vote with helping increase the participation of younger voters.By all indications, more people of all ages are interested in this election.Davis said 3,298 people voted early in Pitkin County and about 2,000 absentee ballots were mailed out. The combined number means more people voted before today’s election than any other time in the county.In Garfield County there were 11,229 early or absentee voters, topping the mark of about 10,000 four years ago, Alsdorf said.In Eagle County 8,350 people have taken advantage of early voting and absentee voting, according to Simonton. That is 41 percent of the registered voters. In the Roaring Fork Valley portion of Eagle County, 45 percent of registered voters voted early or absentee.The number of early voters easily eclipses the roughly 6,100 who voted early in 2000, she said. In that year, overall turnout hit almost 80 percent in Eagle County.”I wouldn’t be surprised if we hit close to 100 percent,” Simonton said about this year’s prospects.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com


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