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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Turnout For Local Elections Low Compared With National Races

Election sign reading 'polling place' on a door at a Missoula polling place.
Josh Burnham
Montana Public Radio
It’s municipal election day in many communities across Montana. Turnout appears to be better in some places than others.";

It’s municipal election day in many communities across Montana. Turnout appears to be better in some places than others.

Local, off-year elections don’t have the sizzle of the big-draw statewide and federal races that draw standing-room-only levels of Montanans to polling stations. But still, Lewis and Clark County Election Supervisor Audrey McCue says local turnout trends for today’s election looks fairly robust.

"In Lewis and Clark County looking at the past few municipal mail ballot elections turnout is usually between 40 percent and 50 percent," she said. "For this election, we’re expecting to be right in that range."

A 40 to 50 percent turnout rate may not sound all that great, but McCue wants to keep it in perspective:

"If you compared this election to a presidential election, especially where there’s no incumbent on the ballot, it would look like low turnout," she said. "But if you’re comparing it to a federal primary it looks pretty decent."

Helena-area voters will elect a new city mayor and two city commissioners. Voters countywide will determine the fate of a 15-year jail renovation levy. If approved, that operations and maintenance measure would raise about $4 million annually for the next 15 years.

In Missoula, where city voters will pick a mayor, municipal judge and city council reps, turnout is fairly light according to elections supervisor Rebecca Connors.

"We were hoping for a higher turnout than what we’ve had so far," she said. "Thirty four percent of registered voters have returned a ballot to our office. In previous mayoral elections we’ve seen 43 percent voter turnout."

Connors hopes that turnout rate gets a bump by the time polls close at 8:00 this evening.

Ravalli County election administrator Regina Plettenberg says several local races are leading to a 35 to 45-percent ballot return rate this afternoon. That, she says, is close to what’s seen during primary elections.

"We’re pretty happy with that,” she said.

Flathead County voters have a full plate of candidates to elect including Columbia Falls’ first contested mayoral race in 16 years.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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