Pat Williams: Low Turnout Elected Radicals

Aaron Flint posted on November 29, 2010 08:33 :: 1168 Views

by Aaron Flint

Well, I am no political scientist (unless a minor in college counts), and I just did a very brief check of the numbers this morning- but it appears to me that Montana actually fared pretty well this year when it comes to voter turnout.

All this, despite an op-ed in today’s (Monday) Great Falls Tribune where former 9 term Democratic Congressman Pat Williams argues that low voter turnout is responsible for the dramatic Republican victories in the Montana State Legislature.  He added that low voter turnout elected “fringe” candidates this year. 

Click here for the full opinion column.  Here’s part of what Williams had to say:

The results of low turnouts are almost always the same: Candidates on the political fringe win.

This year victories went to the most conservative of the Republican candidates. The most recent post-election research found that this year 203,429 Montanans cast their votes for Republican candidates to the Montana House of Representatives. Thus, only 31 percent of Montana’s registered voters determined 68 percent of Montana House seats. That represents a record for minority control of our state Legislature.

Why was Republican turnout so much higher than that of the Democrats? Of course, the bad economy was part of it, but the Republican voter turnout apparatus was also far better funded and considerably more sophisticated.

I enjoyed having Congressman Williams as a guest on “Voices of Montana” a couple weeks ago to get his take on the election results.  His description of Montana as being a “schizophrenic” state when it comes to election results is largely accurate- we are a fiercely independent state, leery of big business and big government at the same time.  However, I don’t come to the same conclusion with regard to the recent mid-term elections here in Montana. 

First off, this was a mid-term election which always draws a lower voter turnout than Presidential election years.  Even still, this mid-term election outpaced mid-term elections going back to 1998.  It didn’t get as many total votes as the 2006 mid-term- but you may recall the 2006 election featured one of the most closely watched races in the country between then-Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) and now-Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT).  Observers across the board remarked on the lack of an exciting top of the ticket race here in Montana, The Washington Post even previewed the mid-term elections by saying “all’s quiet on this Western front” when discussing Montana.  

On the morning of election day here in Montana, I was interviewed on KTVQ-TV and asked my thoughts on the election in Montana.  I cited the Washington Post headline and added that it would be interesting to see what would happen.  Would Montanans who were angry over the federal health care bill and unable to punish their US Senators instead direct their ire towards local legislative races?  That appears to be the case- not only with concern over ObamaCare, but over the worries of increased government spending in general. 

Bottom line- despite the lack of any exciting statewide races (other than the often forgotten Supreme Court race)- Montanan’s still came out in higher numbers than most mid-term elections.       

Here’s a link to past election results:

1998:  338,733
2000:  417,916
2002:  340,272
2004:  456,096
2006:  411,061
2008:  497,599
2010:  367,157

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