The number of registered voters in Jackson County is 3,000 higher than during the May primary in 2012, and the county clerk predicts voter turnout will be at least 13 percent better than in 2012 or 2010.
At noon Thursday, there were 120,357 registered voters compared to 117,082 for the presidential primary in 2012. In 2010, there were 114,903 voters registered for the May mid-term election, said County Clerk Chris Walker.
"I think the measure issues are driving a lot of it," said Walker. She expects a voter turnout in the 50 to 55 percent range but it could reach as high as 60 to 65 percent. Turnout in both the 2010 and 2012 primaries was 37 percent.
2010 2012 2014
Republicans 44,333 45,536 44,362
Democrats 41,608 40,199 39,017
Independents 3,831 5,211 6,901
Non-affiliated 22,230 23,135 26,813
Other parties 2,901 3,001 3,264
Total 114,903 117,082 120,357
— Source: Jackson County Clerk's Office
Voters will decide May 20 whether to ban the growing of genetically modified organisms, form a special district to fund county libraries and establish an extension service district to fund Master Gardeners, 4-H activities and agricultural classes and research. Ballots were mailed Friday.
"I think that 55 percent will be a good election for us here," said Walker. "Those money measures and the GMO measure relate to what our turnout will be."
Both opponents and proponents of the GMO measure conducted registration drives, said Walker. Backers of the library and extension service districts also registered voters.
"The parties always do (drives) as well and the League of Women Voters," said Walker. "(Southern Oregon University) has done a lot of drives and brought in a lot of cards through the student union."
Library measure supporters even made an effort to register 17-year-old voters who would be 18 by the time of the election.
"I'm not surprised" at the number of registered voters, said library campaign manager Cathy Shaw. "We have been making a concerted effort to register new voters at high schools. The League of Women Voters has been registering voters outside of libraries."
Millennials — teenagers and 20-somethings — are some of the biggest supporters of public libraries, said Shaw. When they leave higher education, they find themselves cut off from sources of information and gathering spots, but libraries help fill that gap.
"We know millennials have a specific interest in libraries and will use them," said Shaw. The GMO issue helped increase registration at SOU, she added.
Voters registered as non-affiliated in Jackson County increased the most over the two previous primaries. There are 26,813 in that category this year, compared to 23,135 in 2012 and 22,230 in 2010.
By party affiliation, numbers this year are: Republican Party, 44,362; Democratic Party, 39,017; Independent Party, 6,901; and all other parties, 3,264.
For 2012, there were 45,536 Republicans, 40,199 Democrats, 5,211 Independents and 3,001 in other parties. In 2010, there were 44,333 Republicans, 41,608 Democrats, 3,831 Independents and 2,901 in other parties.
Non-affiliated voters may opt to switch to a named party in presidential primary years to have a voice in choosing the president, then switch back later, Walker said.
Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at email@example.com.