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SHERIDAN — Although the word “primary” indicates something first in rank or essential to a system, voter turnout in primary elections versus general elections in America has been dropping since the 1970s, and Wyoming is no different.
Records kept by the Wyoming Secretary of State’s office show that voter turnout for primary elections was 42 percent of registered voters in 1978 but dropped to 25 percent in 2012.
Reasons for the drop, and for overall low voter turnout in primary elections, vary, with analysts citing voter apathy, hours of operation for polling locations and a lack of understanding of the purpose of the primary election — which is to narrow the field of candidates that will be placed on the ballot for the general election.
Primary elections are the people’s first voice in an election.
Primaries take a field of two, four, five or eight candidates and narrow the choices that will be available in the general election.
In Sheridan County, voter turnout in primary elections has typically ranged from 40 to 65 percent of registered voters, indicating stronger voter turnout for primary elections than much of the rest of the state and nation.
However, since 2002, the number of Sheridan County voters participating in primary elections has dropped more than 2,000 from 7,487 in 2002 to 5,466 in 2012. In those same 10 years, primary voter turnout bounced between 27 to 65 percent of voter turnout in the general election of the same year, showing a roller coaster of voter participation in the county.
So far this year, absentee votes for the primary election have been up compared with past years and look as though they will surpass the 1,018 absentee ballots cast in 2012, County Elections Supervisor Brenda Kekich said.
Kekich said the increased absentee ballots have kept her office busy along with all the final preparations for the primary election to be held tomorrow.
Kekich said over the weekend and into today, volunteers have been delivering the county’s 29 ballot counting machines and all the other needed supplies to run an election — tables, chairs, booths, ballots, pencils, signs, ramps to make polling locations ADA-compliant and lists of registered voters in each precinct — to the 29 polling locations in the county, including all the way out to Arvada, Story and Beckton School House.
It takes Kekich a day and a half alone to print and compile the poll lists for all the precincts.
Each location also has an automark machine to assist residents who may have trouble marking ballots by hand.
In the weeks leading up to the election, the county elections office has also been training more than 150 volunteers and paid election judges with three trainings per day for two weeks.
Judges and volunteers must be at their polling location by 6 a.m. Tuesday. Ballots will be accepted from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
“It’s a big team effort of getting everything out there and getting all set up,” Kekich said, noting that the office worked over the weekend to prepare.
Primary races narrow the field for general elections
SHERIDAN — Primary elections serve to narrow the field of candidates that will appear on the general election ballot. How much the field is narrowed depends on whether the race is partisan, when candidates represent a certain party such as Democrat or Republican, or nonpartisan.
In partisan races like county treasurer, county commissioner, state Legislature and U.S. Congress, the primary narrows the field to one candidate each for each party.
For example, in the race for a state representative for House District 29, there are two Republicans running: John Patton and Ryan Mulholland. The primary election will reduce that number to one candidate for the general election in November, meaning that tomorrow is the chance for residents to pick who they’d like to see on the ballot.
Similarly, the race for county commission has three spots available with four Republican candidates running. Only three will move on to general election, meaning that the primary election will essentially decide who wins, unless there is a write-in candidate who receives 25 votes or more. If that happens, that write-in candidate will have the option to accept the nomination or not.
For nonpartisan races like city council and Dayton mayor, the primary election will narrow the field to twice the amount of candidates than the number to be elected in November.
For example, there is one two-year seat on Sheridan City Council up for election and three candidates running. The primary will narrow the field to two candidates, knocking one out of the running. Dayton Town Council has five candidates running for two seats, so the primary will narrow that field to four candidates.
For nonpartisan seats, someone with three write-in votes or mor will have the option to be placed on the general ballot.