Absentee and early votes poured into the Natrona County elections office last week as time dwindled before Tuesday’s primary election.

“Seems like things are picking up this time, which is really, really good,” Natrona County Clerk Renea Vitto said. “I do think a lot of people are coming out right now because they want to change their party.”

While changing affiliation at the county office, Vitto said many voters cast a ballot at the same time.

The county had 1,241 absentee ballots by the end of the day Friday, according to Elections Deputy Clerk Chris Lindsey. A total of 1,767 were mailed.

According to the Wyoming Secretary of State’s office, Natrona County had 25,972 registered voters through Aug. 1.

Vitto said a number of both former Democrats and Republicans switched parties for the primary, although that doesn’t mean they will stick with that party for the general election. The affiliation changes she personally completed were mostly people identified with Democrats for the 2008 presidential election who said they were switching “back” to the Republican Party.

“All the candidates that are running are mostly Republican,” she said. “So in order to make your choice, and make sure you either vote in or vote out some of the Republican candidates, they would have to change. Usually it’s a commissioner’s race that will drive it or a house district race in a primary.”

The only contested race for Democrats in Natrona County is for the U.S. Senate, with three candidates. The Natrona County Commission primary has nine Republicans, one Democrat.

“In a state like Wyoming, you tend to see that,” said Andrew Garner, who teaches political science at the University of Wyoming. “So I suspect there’s not a lot going on on the Democratic side of the primaries that’s really exciting.”

When Republican candidates typically win the general election, Garner said people might be prompted to change parties because the primary often decides the winner. He said absentee ballots also boost the Republican Party in most cases, especially in states with high military service.

“There is a slight tendency for absentee ballots to favor Republicans,” Garner said. “So the more absentee voting you have in a state like Wyoming is only going to favor the Republican candidates.”

Voter turnout on any given year, Garner said, is a combination of individual motivation and party efforts. He said individuals weigh civic duty with the “hassle” of voting, “but turnout is also as much or more a function of mobilization by the parties.”

Vitto said 20 percent of registered voters submitted an absentee ballot for the primary election in 2010, and 23.7 percent submitted an absentee ballot for the primary election in 2008. She expected between 1,300 and 1,400 absentee ballots by Tuesday, slightly more than the average 1,100 to 1,200 primary ballots.

“We’re always hoping for a really big turnout,” she said.

Reach city reporter Kelly Byer at 307-266-0639 or kelly.byer@trib.com. Follow her on Twitter @KellyByer.

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