By Michelle Guffey
Killeen Daily Herald
BELTON Few registered voters in Bell County ventured out for Tuesdays primary election for the opportunity to exercise their constitutional right.
In a county of about 147,000 registered voters, only 12,287 of them, or 8.3 percent, cast their vote.
Election officials found it to be a puzzling occurrence, considering voter registration is up by 8,012 from the 2004 primary election.
We need to figure out how to get people out to vote, said Precinct 4 Commissioner John Fisher, who apparently avoided a runoff with Killeen Mayor Maureen Jouett in the Republican primary Tuesday.
A mere six votes made the difference in a runoff; however, more than 6,000 potential ballots from outside the United States can still be accepted until March 20 if they were cast by 7 p.m. Tuesday.
If the totals stand, Fisher will run unopposed in the November election.
Fisher speculated that the transient nature of the community may figure into why voter turnout is low.
Maybe because people are here for a short amount of time, they figure, why should they get involved, he said.
In the last gubernatorial primary election in March 12, 2002, 12,247 people voted 40 fewer than this year.
The 70 residents who voted at Precinct 204 were denied the opportunity to vote on the new touch-screen voter machines.
Voters were told at the polling site by election judges that they could not use the machine because it had not been programmed.
If there was something wrong with the machines, they didnt let us know, Election Clerk Lindsay Clark said.
Each polling site is mandated by the Help America Vote Act to have at least one of these new machines for disabled voters.
New touch-screen mach-ines were on-site at several early voting locations on the first day but were not available for use in Bell County.
Two candidates made last-minute requests to be placed on the ballot, which were approved by the Secretary of State. However, that approval delayed the state office from getting the information to all the counties in Texas.
Because the machines were not used on the first day of early voting, they could not be used at all during the two weeks prior to the primaries.
But at Precinct 204, unbeknownst to county officials, voters were not given the option of using the machines, instead being given paper ballots that were electronically scanned.
It may have been an isolated incident, County Judge Jon Burrows said. As far as I know, they were all up and running.
Bell County residents tracking the election results on the Secretary of States Web site were not able to get any numbers regarding the local elections until all the votes were counted around 9:45 p.m.
Those at the Bell County Expo Center had the advantage of watching which candidate was in the lead as the night wore on.
Election officials transmitted numbers to the Secretary of States office twice once around 7:15 p.m. for early voting totals and once at the end of the night when all the ballots had been tabulated.
Despite the low voter turnout, two unfilled positions up for election generated a considerable amount of interest county clerk and county court-at-law No. 2 judgeship.
No one had the advantage of being the incumbent, Burrows said. They were open to everybody.
Vada Sutton, a Democrat who was county clerk since 1987, retired in September after suffering a stroke that left the right side of her body paralyzed and affected her speech.
In the Republican primary for the county clerks seat, Shelley Coston received 67 percent of the vote in beating out Trudy Stuart. Coston will go on to face Democrat Rosa Hernandez in the fall.
The winner of the Republican primary for the county Court-at-Law No. 2 judgeship will not be known until April, following a runoff between Temple attorneys Bob Barina and John Mischtian.
Presiding Judge John Barina, Bob Barinas father, announced his retirement this year.
Tuesday night, Barina received 44 percent of the vote and Mischtian received 38 percent.
Because neither candidate achieved 50 percent of the votes, a runoff will take place and whoever wins will be unopposed in November.
Contact Michelle Guffey at email@example.com