With less than a week left in the Missoula City Council primaries, turnout is a bit lower than elections officials had hoped. One possible reason? Missoulians are out enjoying their summer.
Dayna Causby, Missoula County’s elections chief, clocked turnout at about 22% since ballots and notices were mailed on Aug. 16. She said Missoula city primaries are usually about 30%.
“We would love for that number to be higher,” Causby said. “It’s the end of summer, people aren’t really thinking about elections, but I do think this week we’ll see more people in the neighborhoods out knocking doors, and hopefully that will help push this number up.”
Earlier this summer, the City Council voted to hold primary races in the three wards with more than two candidates, creating head-to-head matchups in all wards for the general election in November. Typically, local races like this would be a mail-only election, but the Missoula County Elections Office's missed a filing deadline with the state, forcing the in-person primary.
To make up for the unexpected in-person election, the Elections Office sent informational mailers with paperwork for how to receive a ballot by mail to voters not already enrolled as absentees.
Of the 9,383 mailers sent to voters not already registered to receive mail ballots, 186 had so far taken advantage of the opportunity to have a ballot mailed for the primary. About 35% of mailers were returned to the county as undeliverable by Tuesday, most often due to voters moving without updating their voter address. Unfortunately, this is not an abnormally high number, Causby said, particularly in Ward 3, which includes the University District, where students tend to move between rentals quite often.
As of Tuesday, Ward 4, which generally includes the South Hills and part of Midtown, had the highest turnout, with almost 29%. Wards 1 and 3 lagged with about 20% and 18% turnout, respectively.
In the face of national concerns of election security and integrity, including hacking, misinformation and increased concern of violence in congested public areas, Causby said all elections officials across the country are doing what they can to mitigate any security risks. Montana, being a paper-based state, was less at risk to interference from hackers or other computer-based concerns. But she said elections officials were also being particularly careful with the computers they use in the day-to-day operations of carrying out the election.
“It’s not just Russia hacking into us,” Causby said. “It’s also, ‘Hey don’t click on emails from the Prince of Nigeria.’”
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Desktop computers set up for elections employees have operational security reminders as the screensavers, reminding employees not to leave passwords written down near computers or leaving unlocked computers unattended.
Despite the risk to computers used for clerical work, voters don’t need to worry about tabulators being hacked.
None of the machines involved in reading and counting ballots are ever connected to the internet, and the physical information ports where elections officials access the data are guarded by multiple physical locks and then multiple passwords, which only a small handful of high level elections officials have access to, Causby said.
Mail ballots are due back by Tuesday, Sept. 10, so voters should get their ballots in the mail with ample time for them to be delivered by then. Voters in the three affected wards can also go to the Fairgrounds ahead of Election Day to drop off their ballot or fill out a ballot if they weren’t signed up to receive one in the mail.
On Election Day, in-person voters can find their polling places at:
• Ward 1: Rattlesnake Elementary, 1220 Pineview Dr.
• Ward 3: Missoula Senior Center, 705 S. Higgins Ave.
• Ward 4: Lewis and Clark Elementary, 2901 Park St.