Party 'switchers' add their voices, and votes, to dramatic Democratic contest.

A lifelong independent voter, Janet Price cast her ballot for President George W. Bush twice, but proudly proclaimed Monday that she was breaking away from her own tradition.

"I always went toward Republicans," said the 58-year-old Medford woman, who is now a Democrat. "Now, I'm not."

Price and several other party "switchers" gathered outside the Jackson County Elections Center Monday and cast their ballots in one of Oregon's hottest campaign seasons in recent memory.

As of Monday afternoon, 42,778 Jackson County voters had returned their ballots, about 37 percent of the county's 114,640 registered voters.

Ballots must be returned by 8 tonight to be counted.

Although the Democratic presidential primary has been the most visible aspect of the campaign, voters will be choosing a number of nonpartisan state and county officials, including county clerk, assessor, surveyor and four Circuit Court judges. Gold Hill will choose a mayor and two City Council members, and voters in Butte Falls will decide local measures about the town marshal and a municipal bottled water venture.

Three statewide crime victims' rights initiatives are also on the ballot, and voters will choose their parties' nominees for the November election that will decide who will represent them in Salem in January 2009. Nominees for a Jackson County commissioner position that will be decided in November are on the ballot, too.

Jackson County Clerk Chris Walker predicted voter turnout would be about 50 percent, considerably higher than the 40 percent turnout in a typical primary election.

Statewide turnout stood at more than 700,000 ballots (36 percent) by Sunday. Jackson County voters accounted for about 6 percent of the state total.

As might be expected in a hotly-contested primary, Democrats have been turning in ballots at a faster clip than Republicans. Walker said 49 percent of Jackson County Democrats had voted by Monday, compared to 32 percent of Republicans.

So far the election has gone with few hitches, said Walker. She said she has received calls from some voters who thought they had received the wrong ballot, but in most cases, the ballot corresponded with how they had registered to vote.

Price said it felt a little strange receiving a Democratic ballot and casting her vote for Obama.

She said that even though the Illinois senator doesn't espouse all the conservative philosophies she normally stands for, "Maybe that is the person at this time that will bring America together."

Another Medford voter, Ivy Foster, said she has been registered as a Republican for the five years she has lived in Oregon.

"I'm more in tune with the Republican camp, but I like the Democrats for their ideals," said the 29-year-old.

Because of her support for Obama, Foster switched parties for the primary, but as to whether she will stay a Democrat, she said, "I'm undecided."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.