Between the Lines

Between the Lines by David Lias Standing in the Clay County auditor�s office Tuesday night, I couldn�t help but think of Kate Looby, who failed in her bid to be elected South Dakota�s new secretary of state.

Vermillion was one of her campaign stops recently, and she talked about changes she�d like to see happen in the state to make the election process easier.

For example, she�s a strong proponent of the Motor Voter Law � the federal legislation that hasn�t really been grasped here yet � that would allow people to register to vote when they applied for or renewed their drivers� licenses.

It would be just one step that South Dakota could take, she said, to make sure that more people become involved in the election process.

Tuesday, I was thinking that such efforts weren�t needed. Not this election, anyway.

It sure seemed like election workers were running a healthy number of ballots through Clay County�s vote tabulating maching, a contraption which sort of looks and works like something out of The Jetsons.

Every time it finished counting a precinct, the machine would spit out a report.

Curious onlookers would huddle by one side of the big counter in Ruth Bremer�s office like hungry cattle along an empty feed trough, waiting for the next batch of results.

I was most interested in the very final report, for it would show not only the outcome of our local elections, but it would also tell us how many people voted.

For weeks, there had been speculation that turnout in South Dakota could be as high as 75 percent, mainly because of a very tight U.S. Senate race between Tim Johnson and John Thune.

The last ballot was finally run through the machine, and it began making its final calculations.

I had checked with the county auditor�s office the week before the election, and discovered that Clay County has roughly 9,000 registered voters.

So I was expecting approximately 6,700 to 6,800 of the county�s citizens would have cast ballots Tuesday.

I looked at the final tally. I rubbed my eyes (it was late and I was tired) and made sure my bifocals were working.

The total number of voters was 5,283. That means 58 percent, roughly 6 out of every 10 of the county�s eligible citizens, voted.

Clay County had the third lowest voter turnout in South Dakota Tuesday.

While cursing the apparent apathy of the populace in the county, I began thinking of my personal voter registration history.

When I was 18, I registered in Minnehaha County. After I graduated from high school, I believe I eventually registered in Brookings County while attending SDSU.

I�ve registered in Perkins County, Hutchinson County, Davison County, and Spink County.

It�s my understanding, and I hope I�m not mistaken, that my name stayed on the election rolls of all these counties for at least four years from the last time I voted there.

And my name would stay on an inactive list of registered voters in each of those counties for up to eight years after the last time I cast a ballot in each of those counties.

The number of inactive registered voters in Clay County is 10,520 � approximately 1,500 more than the active voters.

For the sake of accuracy, it�s time to explore ways of insuring that active voter registration listings truly reflect the number of eligible voters.

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