23 March 2017
MT general and primary election turnout is declining
Among Democrats, and even some Republicans, it’s an article of deep faith that early voting and no excuses absentee ballot voting favor Democratic candidates and increase turnout. That’s why the argument over SB-305 is so intense.
But that faith may be based on a false premise. A review of the turnout of Montana’s voting eligible population in general and primary elections from 1972 through 2016 suggests that VEP turnout has declined while voting by absentee ballot, which is almost entirely a mail ballot operation, has increased.
The data displayed by the graph are in an Excel spreadsheet that you can download.
Are the differences between the pre and post absentee era turnout means statistically significant? Possibly. I ran Student’s T and the Wilcoxon test, standard tests for small samples. The differences were significant at the 95 percent level. But because the voting method is only one of several variables that affect turnout, one should be cautious about concluding that early voting and unrestrained absentee ballot voting are responsible for the decline in VEP turnout in Montana.
I suspect, incidentally, that turnout for the special congressional election will be closer to that for a primary election than for a general election.