Flurry of voters casting early ballots on casino issue

Auditor says turnout may exceed vote on local-option sales tax last year

More people may care to weigh in on casino gaming than the number who voted a year ago to defeat a ballot issue to extend the local-option sales tax in the metro area and unincorporated Linn County, says Linn County Auditor Joel Miller.

A flurry of voters are asking for and voting via absentee ballots ahead of the upcoming countywide special election March 5 on casino gaming, Miller said Tuesday.

Tuesday was the fourth day that voters could cast an absentee ballot at Miller’s office at the Jean Oxley Public Service Center, 935 Second St. SW. The office is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. March 1 is the last day to request an absentee ballot be mailed.

By midafternoon Tuesday, Miller said 929 voters had requested an absentee ballot, with 389 of those having been cast.

In last March’s special election on the sales-tax question, 30,974 people voted in Linn County, a 22.3 percent turnout of registered voters. Of those, 3,587 voted by absentee ballot.

Miller said one-fourth of the number who voted absentee a year ago "already" had requested ballots after just the fourth day of absentee voting and with more than a month before the March 5 casino vote.

The March 5 vote is countywide, and the sales-tax vote in March 2012 did not include most of the county’s small towns, which already have the local-option sales tax in place for an extended period, Miller noted. Even so, he said he was looking for a turnout on the casino question that might reach or exceed 30 percent of the registered voters.

"I just think we’re going to have a better turnout (on the casino question), which I’m happy about. It means people are participating," he said.

Sam Roecker, the Des Moines-based consultant with the Just Vote No Casino campaign, said on Tuesday that the campaign is encouraging people to vote early, either in person or via mail.

"We’ve had an outstanding response so far from people who can’t wait to say no to this casino proposal," Roecker said.

The story is the same on the pro-casino side.

"We’re hard at work," Marcia Rogers, communications director for Vote Yes Linn County, said Tuesday.

Both campaigns said people can pick up a form to request an absentee ballot at their campaign offices. The Vote Yes Linn County office is at 2857 Mount Vernon Rd. SE; the Just Say No Casino office is at 1134 Ninth St. SE.

Linn County’s Miller said he has tentatively set up satellite voting stations at Westdale Mall on the city’s west side and the Collins Road Theatres on the city’s east side.

As now planned, voting at Westdale Mall will be from 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, Feb. 12 through Feb. 15, and on Saturday, Feb. 16, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Voting at the Collins Road Theatres will follow the same schedule a week later.

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