Patrick Walthall, 71, of Ashland, places his ballot into the box adding a little extra flair to the process of voting. pennell photo - Bob Pennell

A landslide of election interest

Patrick Walthall waved a little mojo over the ballot box Monday in Ashland as he cast his vote and expressed his hope for a fair election.

"I was disgusted in 2000 when Bush stole the election, and I've been in a dither about it ever since," said the 71-year-old Ashland resident, referring to the contentious conclusion to that race, which ultimately came before the Supreme Court.

Walthall is among 22 percent of registered voters who already have cast their ballot in what could be a record turnout for Jackson County and the state.

Secretary of State Bill Bradbury is predicting more than 86.5 percent of voters will cast ballots in Oregon, and Jackson County election officials expect an 85 percent turnout or better.

If Bradbury's prediction holds true, this election would generate a larger turnout than in 2004, which had the second-highest turnout in the state's history at 86.4 percent, or in 1960 (Nixon-Kennedy presidential race), which saw the highest at 86.5 percent.

Local residents cite the economy as being the foremost problem pushing residents to the polls, followed by the hotly contested race between Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama.

"The truth of it is that the economy is in such a mess," said Walthall.

He said the Iraq war and church-versus-state entanglements have rankled him over the past two administrations.

Walthall said the U.S. was highly regarded around the world after World War II and had a growing economy and an optimistic outlook that is lacking today.

"I'd like to go back to 1945," he said.

Jackson County Clerk Chris Walker said the turnout so far has been 24 percent, roughly what it was at this time in 2004. In the May primary, only 11.32 percent had voted by this time in the election.

"We're seeing a lot more people voting than normal," she said.

In Ashland, election officials are emptying the ballot box twice a day because of heavy turnout.

In Eagle Point, 105 ballots were dropped off Monday, the biggest opening day ever, Walker said. She said normally about 20 ballots are dropped off in a given day.

Voter registration is down slightly, however.

In 2004, 123,069 residents had registered to vote, compared to 121,274 today.

Walker said voter turnout nationally is usually much lower than in Oregon, where residents can vote by mail.

She said a recent news report suggested the turnout nationally could hit 60 percent, which would be the highest since 1968.

World events and the financial meltdown are weighing heavy on local residents' minds.

Mike Randall cast his ballot Medford in Medford, saying whatever candidate gets into office will inherit a mess with the economy and world politics.

"Honestly, I don't think either one's going to fix it," said the 59-year-old Medford resident.

He said the country needs a change, and that's why he's voting for Sen. John McCain.

After studying the issues extensively, Randall said the problems facing this country are immense and leave him a little perplexed.

"I don't have a clue to be quite honest with you," he said. "The more I know about it, the more complex it is."

Sandra August cast her vote for Obama, but said her husband will cancel her out by choosing McCain.

"I love McCain's character and values, but (Sarah) Palin — no," she said of McCain's running mate.

The 61-year-old Sams Valley resident said the economy is one of the main factors guiding her vote.

"This is one of the most important elections in a long time," she said.

She said there has been so much talk of trickle-down economics over the years, but poverty is now starting to trickle up.

August sees one bright spot in the whole mess. "Thank God the price of gas has come down."

Billie Parrish said she was voting based on her morals this election.

The 78-year-old Medford resident put her ballot in the box at the Elections Center, saying she was voting for McCain.

She is opposed to abortion and thinks McCain will stand up against the liberals on this issue.

"It is very critical as far as the morals of this country go," she said.

But Margaret Krout said she believes in a woman's right to choose and doesn't want anyone legislating what women do with their bodies.

The 60-year-old Talent resident cast her vote for Obama, but her 86-year-old mother voted for McCain.

Krout said this election is one of the most important she can remember. "We're breaking new ground," she said.

Kyle Roach had a very personal reason why he voted for Obama. His wife is in the military and they both fear she could be sent to Iraq.

The 21-year-old Rogue River resident said, "I know she doesn't want to get deployed there.

"We want to start a family."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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