November 7, 2006 in Idaho

Write-in ballots may cause late night for counters

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Kathy Plonka photo

Andrew Hunt voted absentee at the Bonner County Courthouse on Monday in Sandpoint. Election results will be delayed in Bonner County because of an active write-in campaign for county commission that will slow ballot tallying.
(Full-size photo)

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If the Idaho governor’s race or the showdown in the 1st Congressional District are as tight as polls suggest, the campaigns may turn to one North Idaho county before they claim victory or concede defeat.

Final results from Bonner County will be delayed because of an active write-in campaign that may require election workers to hand-count thousands of ballots. The job probably will stretch through the night and into Wednesday, Bonner County Clerk Marie Scott said.

“We’re just going to count until we are done,” Scott said.

Karl Dye’s campaign to reclaim his seat on the county commission will slow down the automated process of counting ballots. In the May primary, Dye lost his bid for re-election as District 3 commissioner, defeated by fellow Sandpoint resident Lewis Rich. He announced his write-in candidacy in August and has raised about $30,000 this year – a hefty war chest for someone whose name doesn’t appear on the ballot in the general election.

Dye has spent the money on lawn signs, newspaper and radio advertising, and a mailing.

“I believe it’s probably the most active write-in race the state of Idaho has ever seen,” Scott said.

The lower voter turnout in the primary hurt his campaign, Dye said Monday evening. He hopes the high turnout expected for today’s election will boost his chances.

“Over the last three weeks the campaign has been gaining momentum,” he said. “We are very optimistic about the results.”

But Dye is preparing to wait to know how successful his write-in effort has been.

“It’s going to be a long night and a long next day,” he said.

Rich could not be reached for comment Monday night.

After the polls close at 8 p.m. today, the county will begin running ballots through an optical-scan reader that detects which ovals voters have filled in. When the machine reads an oval that is darkened next to the space for a write-in candidate, it stops. The ballot must be removed and the write-in name counted by hand.

“We haven’t taught it yet how to read English,” Scott said.

Two recent independent polls showed two high-profile races – Democrat Jerry Brady and Republican Butch Otter for governor, and Democrat Larry Grant and Republican Bill Sali for Congress – could be considered statistical dead heats.

If either race ends up within a few hundred votes by Wednesday morning, the Bonner County write-in ballots could determine the outcome.

Bonner County has more than 21,300 registered voters. The county issued more than 2,600 absentee ballots for today’s election – more than twice as many as the last midterm election in 2002.

“Our absentees have gone right through the roof for a non-presidential election,” Scott said.

Absentee ballots also set a record in Kootenai County. About 10,000 have been issued, said Deedie Beard, the county’s elections supervisor. In 2002, the absentee ballots topped 6,000.

“Today we had a steady stream in here,” Beard said, referring to a line of residents voting in person at the elections office in downtown Coeur d’Alene.

Scott said her crew usually is finished counting ballots by midnight. But tonight she’ll have another crew come in and work through the night. The first results are expected shortly before 10 p.m. and will be posted on the county’s Web site at www.co.bonner.id.us. The Spokesman-Review also will post current results at www.spokesmanreview.com.


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