County clerk reports big jump in voter registrations

by nathan oster

The general election may be over, but plenty of work remains for Big Horn County Clerk Lori Smallwood and the employees in her office, who this week are keying in the registrations of new voters who went to the polls on Nov. 6.

“We have a stack about 18 to 24 inches tall of registrations,” said Smallwood, whose office has until early December to get them all entered into the system.   Until they are, it’ll be difficult if not impossible to provide an accurate representation of voter turnout.

Smallwood said one of the most experienced members of her staff, Annette Dillon, told her that she could not remember a year with more new voter registration. “In the north end, we had a lot of older people, folks who had never before registered to vote, who registered — either here or in town halls.

“And very late, just before the election, we had a big rush of Democrats who registered.”

The fact that new voter registrations are not yet entered into the system is just one of the challenges that makes it difficult to get an accurate sense of voter turnout.  The other, Smallwood said, is a change that took effect approximately three general election cycles ago.

According to Smallwood, counties around the state are making a greater effort to maintain the accuracy of their registered voter county. After each general election, anyone who didn’t cast a ballot now received a card in the mail, asking them if they’d like to remain registered.  Those who don’t return the card or call the clerk’s office are purged from the county’s list, Smallwood said.

As a result of the “purging” of two years ago, Big Horn County went into this year’s general election with far fewer registered voters than were on the books four years ago.  With all the new registrations coming in, a couple of precincts saw more ballots cast than they had registered voters on Election Day.

In Big Horn County, 5,362 ballots were cast in this general election, with 4,320 being entered on Election Day, the remaining 1,042 on absentee ballots.  The number of registered voters on Election Day was 5,414, which puts the county voter turnout at 99 percent.

Greybull’s turnout came to 98 percent, with 1,089 votes cast and 1,104 registered voters.

Shell, with 293 registered voters on Election Day, cast 267 votes, for a turnout of 91 percent.

Emblem, with 65 registered voters, cast 58 ballots, for a turnout of 89 percent.

Elsewhere in south Big Horn County, Basin came in at 94 percent (769 votes, 817 registered voters); Burlington at 97 percent (277 votes, 284 registered voters); Otto at 96 percent (117 votes, 122 registered voters); Hyattville 98 percent (87 votes, 88 registered voters), and Manderson 97 percent (170 votes, 175 registered voters).

All of the anomalies occurred in North Big Horn County.  In four of the five precincts, there were more votes cast on Election Day than there were registered voters on the books.  In Cowley, 457 votes were cast, but there were just 424 registered voters when the day began.  In Lovell, 1,531 votes were cast, compared to a voter count of 1,480.  In Deaver, 104 votes were cast, but just 102 were on the books when the day began.  And in Frannie, there were 96 registered voters when the day began — yet 97 votes were cast.  Only in Byron did the number of votes cast, 339, not exceed the total number of registered voters on Election Day.

The other big story coming out of this election, Smallwood said, was the number of absentee ballots that were cast, 1,042.  Neither Smallwood nor Dillon could remember a year in which more than 1,000 absentee ballots were cast.  In fact, Dillon said the high, prior to this year, was around 900.

Smallwood had no explanation for the increase. “My guess is, a lot of people knew they wanted to vote but didn’t know if they wanted to go to the polls and do it,” she said. “It’s easier to call and get an absentee ballot.  Plus I think they see people in other states voting early — and want to do it too.

Statewide, more than 240,000 Wyoming residents cast ballots in this year’s general election.