Election Official Predicting Low Voter Turnout For Primary

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - He's a 19-year-old registered Republican,
but Brandon Dean represents one of the millions of Kentuckians
expected to sit out this year's primary election.
Dean, a fast-food worker in Frankfort, said he hasn't kept up
with the race and isn't planning on voting. He attributes "a lot"
of his disinterest to the lengthy investigation into Gov. Ernie
Fletcher.
"I haven't followed it," Dean said of the race that culminates
Tuesday. "It's important because it's helping my community, but I
haven't even followed it much because I barely watch TV."
He's not alone. Only 10 to 15 percent of Kentucky's Republican
and Democratic voters are expected to weigh in on their picks to
advance to the November general election.
Gov. Ernie Fletcher, a Republican, is seeking a second term, but
is facing opposition from former U.S. Rep. Anne Northup and Paducah
businessman Billy Harper.
Democrats have six candidates to choose from, including former
Lt. Govs. Steve Beshear and Steve Henry, Lexington attorney
Gatewood Galbraith, Harlan County demolition contractor Otis
Hensley Jr., Louisville businessman Bruce Lunsford and House
Speaker Jody Richards.
The Courier-Journal's Bluegrass Poll, published last week,
showed Fletcher and Beshear with leads in their respective races.
However, large amounts of Democratic and Republican voters were
undecided, the poll found.
Candidates for governor must receive at least 40 percent of the
vote to win his or her party's nomination. If not, there would be a
runoff between the top two vote getters five weeks later.
This year state election officials are expecting a relatively
low voter turnout, similar to the race four years ago. About 17
percent of the registered voters in Kentucky cast ballots in 2003,
including about 17 percent of Republicans and nearly 19 percent of
Democrats.
According to the state Board of Elections, there are currently
about 2.8 million registered voters in Kentucky. That includes 1.6
million Democrats and slightly more than 1 million Republicans.
Secretary of State Trey Grayson, the state's top election
official, anticipates about 15 percent of eligible voters will cast
ballots on Tuesday.
Grayson said there were different factors that would likely
contribute to low turnout.
The crowded field on the Democratic side, combined with the
runoff prospect, could cause some not to vote, Grayson said. People
also seem less interested in politics, Grayson said.
For example, many focused on the head mens' basketball coach
opening at the University of Kentucky, along with anticipation for
the school's recruiting class, rather than politics, Grayson said.
"That's all people talked about," Grayson said.
Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Lundergan said he agreed with
Grayson's prediction.
"It's real simple: People are not focused on this governor's
race," Lundergan said.
Michael Baranowski, a political scientist at Northern Kentucky
University, said he expects fewer than 15 percent of eligible
voters will participate Tuesday.
"It's a fairly small segment of the population that gets worked
up about a gubernatorial primary even under these conditions,"
Baranowski said.
Dean, who believes he'd probably vote for Fletcher if he were
participating, said he was at least slightly turned off this year
because of a lengthy probe into the governor's hiring practices.
A Franklin County special grand jury for more than a year
pursued allegations against Fletcher that he and administration
officials improperly steered protected state jobs to the governor's
political supporters.
Fletcher issued a blanket pardon to everyone in his
administration other than himself for any charges that could result
from the investigation. Fletcher, who has claimed the investigation
was politically motivated, was nevertheless indicted on three
misdemeanor charges stemming from the probe. The charges were
eventually dropped in a deal with prosecutors.
A subsequent grand jury report claimed Fletcher oversaw a
"widespread and coordinated plan" to avoid state hiring laws.
"He deserves another chance to prove himself to the
community," Dean said.
Joe Gershtenson, director of the Center for Kentucky History and
Politics at Eastern Kentucky University, said the race's dynamics
would seem to have generated more interest.
"It's more exciting in most ways than in 2003," Gershtenson
said. "It really ought to generate significantly more interest."
Mark Nickolas, a Democrat who ran U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler's
failed 2003 gubernatorial campaign, said it was important for
campaigns, among other things, to identify their solid supporters
and get them to the polls on election day.
Voter turnout is "critical" for campaigns, and they usually
try to offset low projections by building grass-roots efforts to
boost excitement during the race's closing 72 hours, said Daniel
Groves, who ran Fletcher's successful gubernatorial campaign in
2003.
Campaigns identify who their voters are and try to understand
what motivates them to vote, Groves said. Grass-roots efforts
include drumming up large crowds for rallies, going door-to-door
and making phone calls on a candidates' behalf, Groves said.
"There's probably nothing more compelling to turning out the
vote than a solid grass-roots effort," Groves said in a telephone
interview.
Anthony Lewis, a 43-year-old registered Democrat from Anderson
County, is one person who's planning on voting Tuesday. Lewis said
he hadn't yet decided whom he was voting for but would probably
"find out which one is going to do me the least harm."
Still, Lewis said he thought voting was important.
"If you don't vote, there's no way you can say anything,
because you're not doing what you need to do to be a citizen,"
Lewis said.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

AP-NY-05-20-07 1335EDT


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