Montanans turned out for Tuesday’s midterm election at a pace not seen in decades, with counts still coming in from voting precincts in four counties late Wednesday afternoon.
Statewide turnout stood at 67 percent as of 5 p.m. Wednesday, according to Secretary of State data. That figure represents the highest turnout by percentage for a midterm election since 1994, with 118 precincts yet to fully report. With 474,673 votes already counted, at least 63,000 more Montanans voted Tuesday than in the previously record-holding 2006 midterm.
But Lewis and Clark County’s numbers have been even more impressive. Clerk and recorder Paulette DeHart predicted Friday that her county would end up casting about 25,000 absentee and 30,000 votes on Election Day. DeHart’s forecast for absentee voting aged well: Lewis and Clark voters returned 25,671 absentee votes by 10:46 p.m. Tuesday, for a county absentee turnout of 86 percent.
DeHart’s prediction for overall voting was just off the mark. When Lewis and Clark’s 37 precincts finished reporting, elections officials had counted 35,032 votes for a turnout of 74 percent from registered county voters.
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Carroll College associate professor of political science Jeremy Johnson said he believes ongoing health care issues motivated Democrats and support of President Donald Trump motivated Republicans to turn out in record numbers in Montana.
“You had voters across the board (who) were energized,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of polarization that’s hit Montana, as well.”
Though just short of the 2006 countywide turnout of 75 percent, Tuesday saw Lewis and Clark’s highest turnout ever for a midterm election by votes cast. The final count of 35,032 votes represented a 32 percent increase from 2014’s midterm election and came within 1,000 votes of surpassing turnout for the 2016 general election, which featured races for president, House representative, governor and Montana secretary of state, among others.