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Rob Kailey is a working schmuck with no ties or affiliations to any governmental or political organizations, save those of sympathy.

Low Primary Turnout in Missoula? What's Up with That?

by: Matt Singer

Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 10:13:04 AM MST


Story in this morning's Missoulian regarding the fact that the county's turnout was the lowest in Montana for the primary. Only 21% of the registered voters in the county cast their ballots.

There's some weird stuff in here, like this:

Obviously, the timing of the primary is not ideal for University of Montana students, many of whom leave for the summer break by June. Only six votes were cast during the primary at the University Center polling place. Yet, Zeier said that while the student absence affects voter turnout, it's not significant.
That would be more believable if the story didn't later note that Missoula generally tends toward lower primary turnout (which indicates this is a common issue, not a one-off deal). Also worth noting -- not all students live on campus, even though this concept tends to be overlooked. Off-campus students are more likely to stick around for the summer, but many still leave to work.

There's another strain here, which I think is largely driven by this figure: Of approximately 16,000 ballots cast, just shy of 14,000 were mail ballots. There's some evidence in other states that the move to vote-by-mail dampens enthusiasm and resulting turnout spikes on Election Day itself. That isn't deeply problematic (although it is worth monitoring). But there is a different problem in Montana, which is that our vote-by-mail system currently doesn't work:

Some voters wondered why ballots were not mailed to their homes, especially if they filled out information to make them a permanent absentee voter.

The previous two elections - the 2009 city election and the May 2010 school election - were both mail-ballot elections, so some people expected to receive a ballot in the mail.

But even the people who opt for permanent absentee ballots must annually fill out a green address-verification form that the elections office mails out every January, and return it to the county in order to continue to receive absentee ballots.

We should fix that.
Matt Singer :: Low Primary Turnout in Missoula? What's Up with That?
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I was confused about that when I received (0.00 / 0)
a mail-in ballot for the school election.  I'd never voted by mail before and I didn't know why I got a ballot in the mail.  This is the first I heard about it being exclusively a mail-in-ballot election.

I spoke to several people when I was phone-banking this year who said they couldn't vote in the primary because they never received their ballot in the mail.  These people were mostly elderly or disabled and I was speaking to them on the day of the election.  I think there is a lot of confusion out there on this issue.  Thanks for pointing it out.


My guess... (0.00 / 0)
Won't one expect that many of those folks who registered to vote during the 2006 and 2008 election cycles have either 1) since moved on to other cities or states (but are still registered to vote in Missoula) and/or 2)are more "fair weather voters" who aren't as interested in elections unless it's a big Senate race or presidential election?

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