Earlier this year a Pew study indicated that more supporters of either presidential candidate were headed to the polls to vote against the opponent rather than to cast a vote for their candidate.
More people are following news about presidential candidates than in previous decades. Unknown is how that translates to actual numbers of ballots cast. It matters to down-ticket candidates.
The last time my name appeared on a Flathead ballot, more people voted statewide than ever before. Nearly 498,000 citizens cast a ballot in 2008, while voter turnout approached 75 percent.
That year, nearly 5,500 ballots were cast in the Whitefish district and voters sent me to Helena with a 500-vote margin. President Barack Obama maintained a similar vote margin in Whitefish.
In the Whitefish district, Gov. Brian Schweitzer beat his 2008 Republican opponent with a margin of 2,000 votes; quadruple my win margin. That’s huge.
Four years later, voter turnout dropped by nearly 6,000 ballots statewide. Rep. Ed Lieser nearly maintained his 500-vote margin in the Whitefish district. Obama lost that district in 2012, while Gov. Steve Bullock garnered several more votes than Lieser. Yet nowhere near Schweitzer’s reelection margin.
By 2014 midterm elections, nearly 120,000 less citizens voted than two years earlier. 2014 was the lowest voter turnout since 2002. Lieser’s win margin dropped down to under 400 votes while U.S. Senate candidate Amanda Curtis lost the Whitefish district by 100 votes.
In Whitefish, over 1,600 fewer ballots were cast in 2014 than in 2008. Yet in Columbia Falls, Rep. Zac Perry won a 48-vote margin victory. That’s remarkable considering that the Republican candidate won that district by nearly 700 votes in high-turnout 2008.
What’s equally remarkable is how the number of ballots cast in Columbia Falls from peak turnout year of 2008 and low turnout year of 2014 fell by nearly 1,400 ballots. Yet Perry won election.
Perry worked with freshman Rep. Frank Garner of Kalispell in the last Montana Legislature. Garner held an 800-vote election margin over his opponent. The bipartisan freshmen pair of legislators agreed on many big bills.
Garner and Perry helped expand healthcare coverage with the Healthy Montana Act and both opposed the latest property tax reappraisal law that assured this upcoming cycle would appreciate higher homeowner tax valuations.
Garner and Perry both voted to balance the 2015 state budget and leave the 2017 Legislature a hefty rainy day surplus to begin the next budget.
Mail-in ballots will soon be in the hands of voters and the top of the ticket may pose a turnoff. The Democrat topping the national ticket enjoys a negative view from a majority of polled voters. Her Republican counterpart enjoys a negative perception from a whopping two-thirds of voters.
Traditional thinking says that those negatives would suppress turnout. But recent months prove there’s little traditional to today’s national elections.
Noteworthy is the fact that today’s election cycle enjoys the first woman candidate to top a presidential ballot.
Plenty of Montanans may hold their nose while selecting the top of the ticket. Even Whitefish Republican Bob Brown recently endorsed voting for Hillary Clinton.
Yet on down-ticket choices, there are many worthy candidates.
Longtime Whitefish leader Dave Fern would do a great job representing voters. Fern has spent decades forging relationships with locals regardless of their political affiliation.
Fern holds a good understanding of school finance from his decades of local service. I trust Fern to put the interest of Whitefish over partisan politics.
Columbia Falls should turn out the vote to reelect Perry just like Whitefish should do for Fern. Progress for our communities comes less from national leaders and more from people like Fern or Perry.
High voter turnout requires returning mail-in ballots soon, or voting at polls next month.
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