Strong turnout seen on first day of early voting in Hopkins County

By BRUCE ALSOBROOK, News-Telegram Managing Editor

Feb. 20, 2008 - The balloting was fast and furious on the first day of early voting in Hopkins County Tuesday, at least compared to the last presidential primary.

Democratic and Republican party voters combined to cast 161 ballots at the Hopkins County Clerk's Office yesterday, almost four times as many votes on the first day of early primary voting in the 2004 races.

The presidential battle between Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton is apparently fueling high voter interest in the Democratic Party elections. The 113 votes cast Tuesday in that party's primary were far and ahead of the 47 votes by Democrats on the first day of 2004.

On the Republican Party side, vote totals were also well above normal, even though there's not as much at stake in the presidential nomination, as Arizona Sen. John McCain's has a virtual lock on the GOP's blessing.

But there are two contested races for Hopkins County offices on the Republican Party primary ballot, which may account for the 48 votes cast on Tuesday. Four years ago, it took most of the early voting period to reach that figure -- after three days, only 26 Republicans had voted early in the primary.

"It's great -- it's been really steady," said Hopkins County Clerk Debbie Shirley, who never seems to mind the extra work a high voter turnout brings.

She said that the close race between Clinton and Obama (Obama currently leads nationwide with 1,336 delegates to 1,251 for Clinton) and the emerging importance of Texas on the nomination's outcome has fueled local voters' interest.

"If it hadn't come down to Texas having a say, I feel there wouldn't have been as many votes, because there are no heated local races in the Democratic Party," she said today. "I was not surprised to have more Republican voters because they have two contested races in Hopkins County."

On the GOP ballot, incumbent Precinct 1 County Commissioner Beth Wisenbaker is challenged in her re-election bid for a fourth term by Will Woods, owner of Will Woods Farm. The Democratic Party ballot only has one candidate for Precinct 1 Commissioner, John Ragan. Precinct 1 encompasses the southwestern quadrant of the county.

The other contested race locally in the Republican Party primary is for Precinct 3 County Commissioner. Ron Reed, a professional firefighter with 33 years of experience, is challenged by Phillip Anderson, owner of Tr-Star Alternator Service.

The winner is expected to face incumbent Democrat Don Patterson in the November general election. Patterson, unopposed in the primary, will be running for a fifth term as Precinct 3 Commissioner, which covers Northeast Hopkins County.

The strong turnout could leave voters waiting in long lines, unless they come prepared. Shirley said if balloters will bring their voter registration cards with them to the polling place, the process will move forward much smoother.

"The lines will go a lot quicker if they bring their voter registration card," said Shirley, adding that the most recent version of the registration card is orange or peach colored. "If not, they should make sure they at least have their driver's license with them."

Voting officials in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex have ordered additional ballots for the primaries this year due to the expected turnout. Shirley said she'll wait until the end of the week to determine if she needs to procure extra ballots.

But she's not worried about running out when the final tallies are cast on March 4.

"We have electronic voting machines at all polling places, so no one will be turned away, even if we were to run out of paper ballots," she said. "Everyone will get their chance to vote."

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