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County gearing up for the Sept. 9 vote

With a state-wide referendum on Gov. Bob Riley's tax and accountability plan a little more than two weeks away, county officials are gearing up for what is expected to be a hotly contested election that still has many of the state's voters undecided.

In a new poll, conducted by The Mobile Register and The University of South Alabama, 21 percent of those polled are still undecided on how they'll vote. Fifty-two percent of the respondents polled would vote against the tax plan, while 27 percent would vote in favor of it. The poll has a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points with the results virtually unchanged from a similar poll conducted early on in Gov. Riley's campaign for passage of Amendment One.

Locally, Butler County Probate Judge Steve Norman said the county is checking the items off its list to get ready for the Sept. 9 election and things are going smoothly.

&uot;(Thursday) was the first day we could start getting our poll workers appointed, and we have to have all that done by the 25th,&uot; Norman said. &uot;We're also going to have an instructional school for the poll workers on the Sept. 4 at the Ritz Theater.&uot;

Norman said the county is expecting to employ 160 poll workers who will work the 22 voting houses throughout the county. Each poll worker will earn $70 per day, so the county's tab for the poll workers will be more than $11,000.

Since the election is a one-item referendum, Norman expects the final totals for the county to be available relatively quickly, even with the polls now staying open until 7 p.m. He also said the county is considering moving the tabulation process across the street to the courthouse annex, which will provide more parking and better access to the building.

County Circuit Clerk Allen Stephenson, who is responsible for handling absentee ballots for the election, said he's been surprised by the number of absentee ballots that have been requested.

&uot;There has been more absentee activity than I've expected,&uot; he said. &uot;We've had more than 50 applications so far and a great number of them were voted at the time the person came in. A number of them were college students who were going away to school.&uot;

Stephenson said the deadline for applying for an absentee ballot is the close of business on Sept. 4, with the deadline to turn them in being the close of business on Sept. 8, the day before the election.

He also said the change in polling times, opening at 7 a.m. and closing at 7 p.m., will have an affect on voter turnout.

&uot;They are going to work well for people who have to work out of town,&uot; he said. &uot;I've heard from a number of people who tell me they'll be able to vote now because of the change in the polling hours. In the past they had to leave too early for work to vote and didn't get home until after the polls had closed.&uot;

The deadline to register to vote on the Sept. 9 referendum is August 29 and those who have not yet registered can contact the Butler County Registrars Office at 382-5685 for more information.