By RACHEL COLEMAN
Leader & Times
Poll workers Lu Haynes and Rikki Carrasco got halfway through their lunchtime salads before the voters arrived at the Seward County Clerk’s election office to cast advance ballots. Neither woman minded the interruption.
“It’s been busier this time,” said Haynes, “and that’s pretty good.”
Advance voting opened March 27 and will continue until noon Monday, the day before the special bond election. Voters will settle two issues: whether USD 480 should make $127 million worth of improvements to the district’s property; and whether the City of Liberal should levy an additional 1/2-cent sales tax to help defray the expense of the project.
The election has been fraught with debate, as Liberal residents recall the last bond election in 2009. That time, voters soundly rejected improvements to the school district, citing dissatisfaction with a plan that contained too many extras.
The current proposal features a citizen-crafted plan designed by a Vision Team made up of community members who outnumbered participants employed by the district. Advocates say there’s never been a better deal for taxpayers, because state funds will cover half the total cost. The sales tax money will also reduce the expense borne by property owners.
In all, that means people who own homes and businesses will pay just 29 percent of the $127 million total.
Even so, it’s typical for naysayers to show up in full force when voting time comes. A privately funded group, Citizens for Responsible Growth, has been at work to galvanize “yes” voters. With radio commercials, print advertisements, billboards and LED display ads, the group continues to try to get out the vote. Telephone volunteers called registered voters Tuesday night to encourage people to show up at the polls.
“We’re just reminding you to vote,” one volunteer said.
Local businesses also want to encourage voting, and put their money behind their opinion, offering free or discount items to people who show an “I Voted” sticker.
“Do your civic duty,” urged the citizens group, “and receive discounts!”
That may be the extra prompting voters need, said Seward County Clerk Stacia Long in a March interview.
“Special elections usually have lower turnout,” she said. “I don’t know why that is, because these are the elections that have to most impact locally.”
It’s too early to call this election an exception, but numbers seem to indicate voters are unusually active this time around, with a slow but steady increase every day. March 27, the first day to vote, saw 36 people at the polls; March 28, the number nearly doubled, with 71 voter; March 29, a Saturday, drew 75 people to the voting station at the county administration building. Monday, March 31, 81 people voted. Numbers for Tuesday had not been tallied yet.
“We’ve also started to see the mail-in ballots come in,” said deputy county clerk Crystal Clemens. “So far, a total of 170 have been requested, and we counted 75 right now that have already been returned.”
Hayne said she’s seen new faces among the advance voters.
“It’s kind of mixed, with the regular folks and people I haven’t seen before,” she said.
“But everyone knows about the restaurants,” Carrasco added. “That’s been very popular, and people are glad to get the sticker.”
For advance voter Ann Lamon, the prospect of a half-price coffee at Spencer Browne’s was appealing. Even so, she said, she didn’t need a reward to get out and vote.
“I don’t mind telling you, I voted yes,” she said. “I’m retired, but I worked in the schools for years. Those little guys need all the help they can get. Not only them, the whole town.”
Deb Pridie agreed. She was back at the polls for the second day in a row; she could only vote once, she said, “but I came with my husband today, so he could vote.”
Pridie is hoping for a successful bond issue.
“If people just get out and vote, I think we can do it,” she said.
Though the voting area was far from crowded, the Pridies waited briefly before the room cleared.
As they moved to the electronic ballot machines, Jose Valles waited his turn. He said he felt the right way to vote was obvious: yes to anything that would benefit education.
“You gotta think about the future,” he said. “All the investments people can do here. It’s a no-brainer. This can still be a little hometown but it can grow.”
Voting has its privileges
L&T staff report
Whether they vote for or against the school bond, voters will be rewarded by local businesses.
Those with an ‘I Voted’ sticker will receive special prices on select items.
The discounts include:
Pizza Hut — Free order of regular single breadsticks;
Vargas — Free non-alcoholic beverage;
Peachwave — 25 percent discount;
Salty Dog — 15 percent discount (excludes alcohol); and,
Spencer Brownes — 50 percent discount on beverages
Wear a sticker to these places between today and April 8 to receive discounts.
In addition, two other businesses are offering April 8 only discounts. They include:
Tan It – 50 percent off on up to two tanning sessions; and,
Ruffinos — Free lite bowl of spaghetti with marinara sauce.
On election day, free coffee and cookies will be avaialble at the Recreation Center for those with an ‘I Voted’ sticker.
Advance voting is available during regular business hours this week, and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Seward County Administration Building.
The general election will take place from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.Tuesday at the Seward County Activity Center.
The voters will decide whether or not to approve a bond that will expand the local school system and replace portable buildings and receive state aid to fund 49 percent of the project as well as the option to approve a half-cent sales tax to help defray a portion of the property tax.