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Absentee voter numbers differ

WORTHINGTON -- Absentee ballots issued and sent back are down in southwest Minnesota, compared to the mid-term election four years ago, but northwest Iowa numbers are higher, according to auditor's offices.

As of noon Monday, the Nobles County auditors office had received 360 absentee ballots for today's election, compared to the 777 they received for the 2008 election. That, though, was a presidential election, which traditionally brings more out more voters.

Murray County Auditor/Treasurer Heidi Winter assumed the numbers were pretty average for a mid-term election until she did a little comparing.

"So far we have issued 254 absentee ballots for the State General Election," she stated via e-mail shortly after noon Monday.

During the 2006 general election, 413 absentee ballots were issued in Murray County. That number does not include the 11 precincts in Murray County that use mail ballots only.

A lack of any high-profile local races may be the cause of the lower absentee ballot numbers, Winter speculated, but she couldn't be sure.

Jackson County's deputy auditor/treasurer said the county sent out 207 absentee ballots and had received back 170, which she thought was about normal. Pipestone Deputy Auditor Janet Baumann said 217 absentee ballots had been issued this year and 195 returned, compared to the 350 issued and 291 received in 2006. In Rock County, the numbers were a bit lower, with 216 absentee ballots issued this year, and 289 issued in 2006.

Over in Lyon County, Iowa, however, things are different. According to Auditor Wayne Grooters, the most absentee ballots it had ever received back were about 1,200. As of Monday morning, approximately 1,550 had been returned.

"It is definitely up," he stated. "We're voting on the resort casino again, and the parties are pushing (absentee ballots) pretty hard, so it's probably a combination of both things."

Processing the absentee ballots makes quite a bit of extra work for his office, he said, between processing the request for the ballot, receiving it back in and having to bar-graph it and track it. There is also the cost of mailing the ballot out and the postage for it to be mailed back.

"But that's the way everything is heading these days, so we just have to stay with it and do it," Grooters said.

Dickinson County, Iowa, went from an average of 1,600 on a mid-term election year to close to 2,500, its auditor's office reported.

Ladonna Wittrock, deputy auditor in O'Brien County, also said absentee numbers are higher than usual for a mid-term election in her county.

"I think it is high because of the political parties and their mailings," she said. "The Republicans and the Democrats sent out mailings, which usually people ignore and throw away. This year, for some reason, people signed them and sent them in."