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Prepared for Election Day

County auditors across the region are convinced voter turnout for Tuesday's general election will be huge. The preparations they've undertaken for Election Day have been just as monumental.

Between processing requests for absentee ballots, training election judges, boxing up equipment and ballots to go out to precincts and fielding phone calls from people with questions, county auditors have been running a bit ragged. But they say they are ready.

"I feel we are prepared. I really do," said Swift County Auditor Byron Giese. "I think everything will go, with maybe a hitch or two, but I think it'll go well and we'll be fine."

Giese is predicting a whopping 90 percent voter turnout for Swift County. Besides the presidential election, he speculates some contested local races -- there are three contests for the Swift County Board, for example -- will bring additional voters to the polls.

He shudders when he recalls a past election when they ran out of ballots a half an hour before the polls closed.

"I got caught during the one governor's race with not enough ballots, and I've said that will never happen again. It was a disaster," he said.

As have most area auditors, Giese increased the number of ballots on hand this year.

Barbara Loch, Meeker County auditor, said they trained 250 election judges this year. "I feel the jurisdictions went the longest mile to make sure they have enough judges," she said.

Each precinct secures the election judges they need. "They all know this will be a huge turnout, so they're adequately staffed," said Renville County Auditor Larry Jacobs.

Absentee balloting has reportedly been strong, with counties possibly posting higher numbers than past elections.

Jacobs said Renville County typically gets requests for about 200 absentee ballots. This year they had 600, which leads him to conclude that "this will be the biggest turnout in Renville County."

"There's a lot of a balloting going on," said Loch, who didn't want to reveal how many absentee ballots had been processed prior to Election Day. "There's been a lot of people voting absentee."

By late last week Kandiyohi County had sent out almost 2,000 absentee ballots, which is about 200 more than in the 2004 presidential election.

"If the voting turnout is going to be like the absentee ballots, then all the predictions are right, it will be a huge turnout," said Sam Modderman, Kandiyohi County auditor. He said he would be surprised if the turnout is less than 80 percent in Kandiyohi County.

New this year in Renville County, Jacobs required that all 10 municipalities were open Saturday to handle absentee ballots to "take some of the pressure off on Tuesday." By law, all county auditor's offices were also open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday to handle absentee ballots.

Absentee ballots can be cast in person as late as 5 p.m. today at the county auditor's offices. A designated "agent" can deliver an absentee ballot for someone else -- nursing home residents, for example -- to the auditor's office until 3 p.m. Tuesday. If they arrive later, they will not be counted.

Loch cautioned voters to be careful when completing their absentee ballots to make sure all the proper signatures are in place. Processing absentee ballots involves considerable time and effort and nothing is more "frustrating" than when a vote cannot be counted because an absentee voter did not include a signature in the proper place, she said.

Voters may find some frustration as well on Tuesday with long lines at the polls.

Jacobs recommends that voters be prepared to wait and be patient.

Voters who wait to register until Election Day will have an even longer wait. They will first have to complete the registration process before voting.

To make the process go smoothly, it's important that a voter have proper identification or have someone who can vouch for them.

Modderman expects polling places will be busy all day long but suggests avoiding the first morning rush, the noon hour and after-work and evening hours. The quietest times will likely be between 9 and 11:30 a.m. and between 1:30 and 3:30 p.m.

"Maybe there won't be a good time. It may always be busy," he said.

The biggest challenge on Election Day will be the unknown, said Loch. "You just don't know what could pop up in terms of weather, power outages or equipment failure," she said.

Every election makes Modderman anxious, but relying on the new voting machines is especially nerve-racking. "If machines go down you've got a problem," he said.

No matter how many times the machines are tested, auditors expect to get calls from a couple precincts on Tuesday morning saying the machine isn't working.

They are usually repaired or replaced with a spare machine and the election continues, said Modderman.

For county auditors the election process began in April when they underwent a two-day training session. "It progressively gets busier and busier until it builds up to this," said Modderman. Barring a recount, auditors will not be done with the election for about a week and a half as audits and other documents are completed.

Although Election Day and the weeks of work leading up to it put a big dose of stress on county auditors and their staff, there is definitely a buzz of excitement about the event and being the first to see the results of the election returns.

"We're gearing up for a huge turnout and it'll be exciting," said Jacobs. "We're looking forward to the day."

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750