MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Alabama's chief election official estimates turnout for Tuesday's primary election will be high but will fall short of the record set four years ago, when Alabama had one of the best turnouts in the country.
Secretary of State Beth Chapman is forecasting 28.9 percent of the voters will participate in the election. She said the Republican presidential candidates' emphasis on Alabama, including speeches in Birmingham on Monday evening by Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, should ensure a good turnout.
In the 2008 presidential primary, Alabama turned out 1.09 million voters, or 42.6 percent of those registered. It eclipsed the old mark of 29 percent in 1992.
A report from the Center for the Study of the American Electorate at American University said Alabama was one of 22 states that set turnout records for presidential primaries in 2008. Director Curtis Gans said Friday that no state has set a turnout record during this year's primary season.
One reason is that both the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations were contested in 2008. It's only the Republican side this time. That means college-aged voters who turned out in unusually high numbers in 2008 primaries to support Barack Obama won't have the same motivation to show up this time, he said.
The center computes turnout based on the voting-age population, rather than on registered voters. That eliminates variations between states that do a good job of purging the names of dead and relocated voters from their rolls and states that don't. Based on the center's figures, Alabama's turnout of voting-age residents in 2008 was 32.1 percent, which broke the old record of 21.3 percent set in 1988.
Either way the turnout is computed, no one expects a record Tuesday. But interest has picked up in Alabama's Republican primary -- as well as Mississippi's on the same day -- since the Super Tuesday primaries. That's because Gingrich staked his future on the two Deep South states and Santorum decided to use them to try to narrow the field of candidates.
"If he's successful in Alabama and Mississippi, he will knock Gingrich out of the box," Gans said.
Gingrich has been on the offensive, spending four days in the state since Super Tuesday.
Two Alabama polls that came out Friday show Gingrich and Romney fighting for the top spot, with Santorum a close third.
Tom Vocino, director of the Center for Leadership and Public Policy at Alabama State University, said polling indicates that Gingrich and Santorum are competing for the same voters in Alabama. When one goes up in the polls, the other drops, he said.
For the first time, Alabama's state primary has been moved up from June to coincide with the presidential primary. The Legislature did that to save $3 million during the state's budget crunch. But it means races for state and county offices will appear on the ballot after the presidential primary candidates and all their delegates.
Chapman urged voters to study sample ballots before they go to the polls, read the ballot instructions carefully and be sure to flip to the back side of the ballot to avoid missing any state and county races.