Our View: How the vote rocked the ‘Boat | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: How the vote rocked the ‘Boat

While history will best remember the 2008 election for Barack Obama’s historic rise to the White House, this year’s campaign season marks another landmark – an inexorable change in how America – and Routt County – participates in the political process.

In short, elections will never be the same.

Seismic changes took place this year in how we vote. In Routt County, at least 9,000 people voted early or by mail-in ballot. That’s a staggering number, comprising more than 60 percent of the county’s registered voters and, more impressively, about 75 percent of the county’s active voters. That remarkable turnout will only grow with Election Day voters and last-minute mail-in submissions.

The deluge of early votes prevented a flood of people casting ballots on Election Day, which in 2006 saw voters waiting as long as four hours at jammed polling locations across the county. Some frustrated voters headed home that day without casting a ballot. In the wake of that disaster, Colorado Secretary of State Mike Coffman placed Routt County on the state’s Election Watch List, and worst-case fears rose about even longer lines during the presidential election in 2008.

Those fears proved largely to be unfounded. Boredom, not chaos, may have been the biggest challenge for local election judges and poll watchers Tuesday, as little to no lines were reported at most county polling locations throughout Election Day – despite turnout that election judges in South Routt called the largest in recent memory.

Significant credit must be given to Routt County Clerk and Recorder Kay Weinland, her staff, Routt County commissioners, and the citizens’ election review committee, all of which worked tirelessly to predict problems, install solutions and educate voters about all the options available to them this year. A potential nightmare at the polls became a realized dream of efficient, smooth voting. Kudos to Weinland and the county for a job well done.

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That job will become even more important in future elections. Just as the voting season is extending – a condition that, while convenient and effective, gives rise to nostalgia for the increasingly lost sentiment of voting with your neighbors on Election Day – the campaign season is extending, too.

This year more than ever, Americans were hit full force with the relentless onslaught of the 24-hour news cycle. For the candidates and public alike, the march to the White House began nearly two years ago, with speculation and mobilization for primary races. At times, following the presidential race was exhausting.

Remember Fred Thompson? John Edwards? Rudy, Ron and Ralph? Perhaps the most telling sign of the media and American politics today is that, before this year’s race was even decided, reporters were asking Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin about her plans for 2012. The next race started before the previous one ended.

An unfortunate aspect of all the coverage is that far too much attention, at times, was given to the horse-race aspect of the political competition, resulting in a lack of attention to policy choices that will guide tomorrow’s officeholders. This applied to candidates of both parties and to the media.

But with the lengthy campaigns and heightened news attention came vastly greater public involvement. The grass-roots organization of Barack Obama’s campaign was of historic proportions, felt here in Steamboat Springs with the opening of a local campaign office. Republicans also opened a John McCain-Palin office in downtown Steamboat.

The 2008 election also signaled Colorado’s return to a state of political relevance, as least as far as presidential elections are concerned. In addition to the Democratic National Convention in Denver in August, presidential candidates, their running mates and their spouses made more than 20 trips to Colorado during the past couple of months. It was refreshing and energizing to find our state back on the national political map. We hope Colorado’s independent spirit will continue to make it relevant to presidential candidates in future elections.

And, as surprising as it might be, that next election cycle begins today.