The Ada County Recorder’s office is a hive of election activity.
County officials have been overwhelmed at this year’s number of absentee ballot requests, even if they requested the requests.
“This is just totally unprecedented,” said Chief Deputy Clerk Chris Rich.
Rich says they’re measuring the stacks of returned requests “in inches and feet” because there are too many to count. Rich pointed to a box lid lined with returned ballot requests, estimated at about seven or eight thousand. “By the end of the day, those will have piled up to here,” he gestured several inches above the box.
On Sept. 19, the county mailed out 183,000 requests for absentee ballots.
So far, Rich estimates it has received back between 40- and 45-,000 requests. By contrast, in the 2004 presidential election, the county received about 16,000 ballot requests.
Eleven data recorders, two mail openers and three time stampers are working from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday in the County Clerks Office on absentee ballots alone. Rich expects the hectic schedule will continue well past the November 4 election, saying that the county will likely retain three or four of the seven temporary employees it hired for these elections to work until March of 2009, entering voter registration information.
The county has been actively trying to minimize long lines this election by sending out absentee requests. In 2004, Ada County voters turned out at nearly 76 percent. This year, the Secretary of State estimates a average turnout of 80 percent or higher, according to Rich.
“We’ve got a larger county now, and we’ve got much more interest in this presidential election,” Rich said of the anticipated lines.
At least one candidate expressed concern over the effect of so many absentee ballots. Ada County Commissioner Rick Yzaguirre is campaigning for a third term in District 2.
“I don’t know if those people are going to take time to learn the issues and vote intelligently. Are they going to return the ballots? I don’t know. It’s such a huge number,” Yzaguirre said. (Democrat David Langhorst is challenging Yzaguirre for his seat.)
Rich thinks that the bulk of the ballots have probably come in. Now it’s just a matter of entering the information into the county’s database. He expects the county will begin mailing out ballots the week of Oct. 6.