Oregon rate is better than U.S.Voter turnout was expected to exceed 68 percent in Oregon, well behind the state record set in the 2000 presidential election, but well ahead of the national average.

With more than 90 percent of the vote counted, estimates by The Associated Press and state officials indicated that more than two out of every three registered voters in Oregon had cast ballots in the statewide general election.

The turnout in Clatsop County was 71.6 percent. Some 14,329 out of 20,005 voters registered in the county cast votes, said Don Van Osdol, county registration clerk.

The Oregon turnout translates to more than 54 percent of the entire voting age population in the state because not all eligible voters have registered.

Nationally, turnout was estimated at 39 percent of all eligible voters.

"Clearly we're doing better than the rest of the country," said Jim Moore, an independent political analyst who has studied Oregon elections for decades. "In fact, compared to the rest of the country, this is fantastic," he said.

A 68 percent turnout during a mid-term election without the presidency at stake was considered extremely good, even by Oregon standards, he noted.

The high turnout in Oregon results partly from its mail ballot - the only state to conduct elections entirely by mail - and a long history of public involvement in politics, Moore said.

"There's a culture in Oregon of civic participation, and it's a culture that's remarkably nonpartisan compared to other parts of the country," he said.

Moore also said newspapers, radio and television stations in Oregon have traditionally raised public awareness of political issues more than media in other states. "Oregon is a small enough state that people look to their TV news and radio stations and newspapers as community members," Moore said.

Paddy McGuire, deputy secretary of state, said it was clear by last Friday that turnout of registered voters would exceed the official state estimate of 63 percent.

He said a late surge of voters who were monitoring the governor's race between Democrat Ted Kulongoski and Republican Kevin Mannix pushed the turnout beyond the estimate. "Given the closeness of the governor's race it is not surprising," McGuire said.

The close presidential race in 2000 contributed to a record 80 percent turnout among registered voters that year, he said. Locally, turnout in 2000 reached 79.6 percent. The last gubernatorial election saw 65 percent of voters in Clatsop County casting a vote.

"We saw this surge at the last minute in that presidential, and I think we're seeing the same phenomenon here that we saw two years ago," McGuire said.

Much of the turnout came in the final two days, on Monday and Tuesday, when voters had to deliver their ballots to courthouses, libraries or county drop-off booths set up on busy sidewalks, he said.

In Clatsop County, about 5,600 ballots were returned late in the last two days, Van Osdol said, but a large number of ballots came in early, as well.

"We got about 20 percent in the first week that they were out there," he said. "This one, they seem to have made their minds up earlier."

Last-minute ballots have risen by about 2 percent to 3 percent every election since the first statewide general election by mail ballot in 2000, he said.

"When everything is counted this time, we'll see a 4 percent to 5 percent bump in this election, and I don't see anything breaking that trend," McGuire said.

State elections director John Lindback said there were relatively few problems with ballots, but optical scanners broke down in Marion County, leaving about 9,000 ballots to count in the Salem area, while Coos County had about 8,000 defective ballots that were the wrong size, forcing elections officials to duplicate them on the correct size paper stock so they could be read by scanning machines.

There were no such problems in Clatsop County, Van Osdol said. The vote went smoothly with the exception of 12 voters who forgot to sign their ballots and six voters whose signatures did not match up with county records. These voters had to come in and sign their ballots in front of elections officials, he said.

The sheer volume of ballots in Multnomah County, the state's most populous, slowed the count in the Portland area where about 50,000 ballots remained to be tallied Wednesday afternoon, Lindback said.

There were nearly 1.86 million voters registered for the September special election but only 817,532 cast ballots, or 44 percent, according to the secretary of state's office.

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