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Early voting in this year's Tucson City Council primary election is underway.

Beginning Thursday, August 9, voters can cast early ballots in the September 11 primary. Voting kiosks are operating at City Hall and will be open later this month at the Wilmot Library, but most early voters will choose to vote by mail

Early balloting--once known as absentee voting--has increased sharply in recent years. In the decade since the Arizona Legislature loosened early voting regs, candidates have run increasingly sophisticated campaigns designed to hook voters early. The logic is simple: The sooner you lock in your voters, the less likely they'll have a chance to change their mind and vote for the other slob.

The best organized--and best funded--campaigns drop mailers on high-propensity voters, inviting them to request early ballots from local election officials. They closely monitor lists of early ballot requests and schedule their propaganda to arrive on the heels of ballots.

In the 1992 general election, about 16 percent of voters cast an early ballot. Last year, that number had more than doubled to 34 percent. But despite advocates' best hopes, early voting has not significantly increased the number of voters. Despite Pima County's population growth, the number of voters actually declined through the 1990s. The trend reversed last year, with 289,193 people voting. Still, that's a mere 1,475 more voters than the 287,718 who cast ballots in 1992.

The percentage of early voters in city elections doesn't run as high. Because they don't coincide with state and federal elections, city elections offer fewer candidates, so there are fewer campaigns pushing early turnout. In 1999's mayoral contest, less than 18 percent of voters cast early ballots.

There are only two real contests in this year's primary races. In south-central Ward 5, Democrat Jesse Lugo is seeking to knock off Councilman Steve Leal, who has held the office since 1989. With no other candidates in the race, the primary will decide the future of the seat.

In the best indicator in recent years, the 1999 mayoral primary, 14 percent of Ward 5 Democrats and Independents--331 voters--cast early ballots. An independent campaign committee funded by labor interests, Tucsonans for Excellence in Government, has launched an early ballot campaign on Leal's behalf.

In north-central Ward 3, Democrats Vicki Hart and Paula Aboud are vying to replace Councilman Jerry Anderson, who is not seeking re-election. The winner of the Democratic primary will run citywide against Republican Kathleen Dunbar, Libertarian Jonathan Hoffman and Green Ted O'Neill in the November 6 general election. All five candidates will debate Wednesday, August 15, at the Woods Memorial Library. (For details, see this week's Skinny.)

In the 1999 mayoral election, 13 percent--530 Democrats and Independents--voted early.

The deadline to register to vote in the primary is Monday, August 13. To request your early ballot, call the City Clerk's Office at 791-5784 before August 31.

More by Jim Nintzel

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