Yuma County voters voice support for Kerry at polls
The votes are in and U.S. Sen. John Kerry is the preferred candidate among most Yuma voters, winning Tuesday night's election with 2,057 votes.
"He's my guy and I'm thrilled that the voters of Yuma County and in Arizona have come together and put their support behind him," said County Attorney Patricia Orozco, who was among a handful of Yuma-area residents who backed the Massachusetts senator in the early goings of his campaign. "I think John Kerry can and will beat President Bush come November. I look forward to that election."
Retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark finished in a distant second among Yuma County voters, getting 925 votes, despite this being a military town.
Former five-term Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who earned no victories in the day's seven-state contest, finished in third locally, garnering 764 votes.
Prior to the polls closing, a large number of local Dean supporters, adorned in their normal campaign regalia, gathered at the Foothills home of Rodney Martin for a 'watch party,' hoping it would eventually turn into a victory celebration.
"We've been committed to this race from the beginning to the end, as far as the primary goes," Martin said. "So we're getting together to watch the returns to see how well we do, not only in Yuma County and Arizona, but the other six states as well."
Although disappointed in Tuesday night's election results, most members of the "Yuma for Dean" group aren't willing to throw in the ballots just yet.
"Two weeks ago, after the New Hampshire primary I called on Kerry, (John) Edwards and (Joe) Lieberman to get out of the race," said Yuma for Dean member Rodney Martin. "After tonight it's one down and two to go."
Martin, who won't concede his candidate's campaign may be in peril also said, "It's turning out to be a slugfest and is going to go from primary-to-primary."
Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, who was also shut out, eventually dropped out of the race, but not before collecting 569 votes in Yuma County - good enough for a fourth-place finish.
Tuesday's preference election was only open to the county's 20,057 registered Democrats with one out of every four of them voting. In all 4,979 Yuma Democrats made their way to one of the county's seven consolidated polling places.
Yuma's presidential preference election also marked the debut of the county's new electronic voting system.
Yuma voters filled in an oval next to the candidate's name they chose instead of using a stylus to punch a hole in the ballot to indicate their choice.
"We really don't know what to expect because we haven't ever used this equipment in an election before," said Yuma County Election Officer Sharyn Runyen, about three hours before the polls closed.
"The poll workers I spoke to felt things were running smoothly," said county spokesman Kevin Tunell, who visited polls in Somerton and San Luis, Ariz., over the course of the day. "The ballots were feeding into the machines and being counted properly and voters seem to be adjusting to filling out the dots."
While election officials said the new voting equipment worked well throughout the day, they cautioned the real test would come when poll workers closed down the polls and transmitted the data to election headquarters.
Within moments of the polls closing, Runyen had cast a favorable ballot of her own about how much quicker and easier the new optical scanners made the voting process.
"This is great," she said. "We were getting results within seven minutes of the polls closing."
Runyen said not all the votes have been counted yet. The provisional ballots - ones that were dropped off at polling places or still had to be verified - would be counted on Thursday. "We have up to five days for any election, except a general election to count them and then the recorder's office has 10 days to verify them," she noted.
The county bought the optical scan system for $402,700 in November as part of Arizona's compliance with the Help America Vote Act of 2002.
James Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6854.