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Freedom, finances should be considered in primary

WILLMAR -- If claiming your American right to vote isn't enough to get you to the polls Aug. 10 for the state's primary election, perhaps money will be a motivator.

Because the primary is earlier than usual this year and will take place when many people are vacationing, a low voter turnout is expected statewide.

Not having people vote is frustrating for many, including those who spend hundreds of hours and thousands of taxpayers do-llars to make an election ha-ppen.

In 2008, Kandiyohi County spent a total of $48,562 on the primary and general elections -- a figure that does not include things like training and paying for nearly 300 election judges.

The total number of Kandiyohi County voters that year was 25,284, which means the cost to the county for each vote was $1.92.

In 2006, when the election cost was nearly the same but 1,233 more votes were cast, the price dropped to $1.86 per ballot.

Because so many election costs are fixed, the cost per vote decreases if more people show up, said Kandiyohi County Auditor Sam Modderman.

Given that fact, pure frugalness and a desire for taxpayers to get their money's worth could motivate some people to vote.

But even though Modderman is the auditor/treasurer and watches every penny for the county, he's more concerned with the patriotic aspect of voting.

"I wish people would understand, this is part of our freedom to vote," said Modderman. "Some people take it so lightly."

There's no question running an election has gotten more expensive.

Back in 1996, which was the last year Kandiyohi County voted with pencils and simple paper ballots, the primary and general elections cost a total of $21,159.

Technology that helps provide quick election results that the public demands, and new voting machines that are required under the 2002 federal Help America Vote Act, have more than doubled the annual cost of elections in Kandiyohi County, according to figures provided by Modderman.

"We're paying very much to get the information quickly," said Modderman, referring to technology that allows election results to go immediately from counties to the state's website to people's home computers. "It's nice, but we're paying a big cost for it."

The new $5,500 voting machines require regular maintenance, hours of testing prior to each election and memory cards that need to be programmed by an outside company. They even require special ballots that cost 25 to 30 cents each, compared to the old-fashioned paper ballots that cost half a penny.

Modderman said he has not heard any predictions on what the voter turnout will be for the Aug. 10 primary, but experience has shown him that local races bring out local voters.

In 2008 just 3,299 Kandiyohi County residents voted. That was a 13.5 percent turnout, said Modderman, recalling that local races were sparse on that primary ballot.

This year there are contested races for county attorney and a county commissioner seat on the primary ballot that could bring out voters.

Although the August primary is in the middle of vacation season, people can cast absentee ballots now at the county auditor's office.

Because of problems with absentee ballots in the Senate race between Norm Coleman and Al Franken, the state has required counties to establish special absentee ballots boards that will process and count all the absentee ballots cast in each county.

Because these ballots must be counted in public view, Modderman said election headquarters is being changed this year. Instead of the auditor's office, all election returns from each precinct, including absentee ballots, will be brought to the community room in the Health and Human Services Building for final tabulation.

Carolyn Lange

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

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