A reality based independent journal of observation & analysis, serving the Flathead Valley & Montana since 2006. © James Conner.

19 April 2017 — 1358 mdt

Turnout in Georgia’s 6th, mail ballots in Montana’s 1st

Turnout in the jungle primary for Georgia’s sixth congressional district approached midterm election levels, reports Ed Kilgore, who worked there many years as a high level politico. Democrat Jon Ossoff won 48 percent of the vote, not enough to avoid a runoff, but it was an impressive showing all the same. Ossoff, notes Kilgore, probably did not benefit from early voting.

Republicans won an estimated 58 percent of an elevated election-day turnout, and as was the case in several states last year, it appears Democrats were harvesting early votes that would have been cast for them in any event, not adding to their totals.

Montana’s 25 May special election will be a hybrid of absentee mail ballots and traditional election day voting at the polls. Speaker of the MT House Austin Knudsen, reports Mike Dennison, refuses to schedule a floor vote on HB-83, which contains Gov. Bullock’s amendatory veto allowing county clerk and recorders to hold the election by an all-mail ballot. In theory, the bill could be blasted onto the floor with a 60-vote supermajority, but the all-mail ballot supporters lack the votes.

Montana’s Democrats are in high dudgeon over the all-mail ballot election’s demise, righteously proclaiming that opponents are feckless spendthrifts who are costing Montana a whopping $750,000, and suppressing votes.

Don’t be fooled by this pious moaning and wailing. Montana has almost 700,000 registered voters. The cost of allowing Montana’s voters to cast their ballots at the polls on election day instead of condemning them to voting by mail is slightly over a dollar a registered voter. That’s affordable.

Nor will voting at the polls suppress votes. The turnout of Oregon’s voting eligible population did not increase after that state switched to all-mail voting. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, there’s no proof yet that Colorado’s 2013 switch to all-mail voting boosted turnout. And the increasing use of absentee mail ballots in Montana, has not been accompanied by increased VEP turnout. If anything, turnout in Montana has been declining.

So why the MDP’s sanctimonious embrace of all-mail voting? Because the Democratic Party — everywhere, not just in Montana — wants to “bank” voters through early voting, and to track mail ballots. Known Democrats, and voters thought to be Democrats, had better vote early or some bright faced volunteer will knock on their doors to pester them to vote already.

Here’s how Iowa’s Democratic Party explains the technique:

It is important that county chairs encourage their Central Committee members and other Democrats to vote early each election cycle. There are a number of reasons for this, including the following:

  • Save Resources — when regularly voting Democrats (such as Central Committee members) vote early, Democratic campaigns can save time and resources turning these voters out on Election Day. This allows campaigns to go after marginal voters rather than concentrating on base voters.

  • Open Election Day — County party members are free on Election Day to assist with GOTV efforts rather than standing in line waiting to cast a ballot.

  • No Weather Worries — many voters are unable to weather a storm to get to the polls on Election Day, and Iowa weather is certainly unpredictable that time of year. Encourage supporters to bank their votes ahead of time.

  • Avoid Negative Campaigning — the last few weeks of an election cycle become increasingly negative in tone and content. Banking votes early prevents voters from succumbing to negative advertising and campaign tactics.

Come hell, high water, or the blizzard of the century, Iowans turn out in person in the dead of winter every four years for the Presidential precinct caucuses. Otherwise, Democrats assume, Iowans are stay at home weather wimps in early November.

Montana’s advocates of all-mail voting have thrown many of the same arguments at me, although no one has had the courage to suggest he wants to protect me from negative campaigning.

Speaking to Lisa Speckhard of The Capital Times in Wisconsin last fall, former Wisconsin communications director for Obama for America Joe Zepecki “…explained how campaigns can capitalize on early voting:”

“It’s about resources and banking votes,” Zepecki said.

Early voting gives campaigns more opportunities to remind people to go to the polls and helps campaigns analyze where to invest resources in the last days of the campaign.

“Ultimately, campaigns only have to do two things: persuade people to vote for the candidate and then get them out and vote. So if you can extend that time period, it helps campaigns with resources and getting people out to do what they want them to do, which is vote,” Zepecki said.

While traditionally campaigns have spent the last four days before the election in a sprint to contact voters multiple times reminding them to vote on Tuesday, now some Wisconsin communities start voting Sept. 26, Zepecki said, giving campaigns lots of opportunities to provide reminders. This means that if the campaign’s target “get out the vote” population is 500,000, with enough early voting, the population may have decreased to 450,000 by election day.

“Now, election day really lasts about a month. And certainly on the Democratic side, we begin operating as such, as soon as early voting is available,” Zepecki said.

Access to information about early voting also helps campaigns strategize where to spend time and resources in the crucial days leading up to the election, Zepecki said. While campaigns cannot discover who a person voted for, they can find out demographic information and past voting history that can give them an idea of which way certain areas are trending, Zepecki said. From this information, they can better decide where to concentrate their efforts.

Neither Democrats nor Republicans have clean hands on this issue. Every political party wants a voting system that favors its candidates.

I want a voting system that favors the voters — and that discourages voters from casting their ballots weeks before the election is over. Three days of early voting at the polls, and absentee ballots mailed to voters a week before the election (and ballots postmarked on election day accepted), is a fair compromise that meets the needs of democracy and the voters.

As for me, on 25 May I’m casting my ballot in person at my local pol. Weather permitting, I’ll walk 1.5 miles to the Flathead County Fairgrounds on election day. Republicans having a good time conducting honk-and-waves will flank the entrance on Meridian (will Quist’s campaign be there?). Inside the poll I’ll vote in the privacy of a booth, then have the satisfaction of feeding my ballot into a counting machine and knowing it was accepted. Many friends, neighbors, fellow citizens, will be there, their presence reminding me that my vote affects others as well as myself. It’s a vital civic ritual that Democrats ought to re-embrace.