Election Day: 34 percent voter turnout could decide Missoula city races

Voters on bike, foot and car dropped their ballots off at election headquarters at the Missoula County Fairgrounds on Tuesday. Polls close at 8 p.m. and the first batch of returns are expected by 8:10 p.m. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

The number of ballots received by the Missoula County Elections Office inched up on Tuesday, but with polls closing promptly at 8 p.m., turnout is expected to fall below 40 percent.

Throughout the morning, a steady stream of traffic trickled into election headquarters at the Missoula County Fairgrounds, where staff had received roughly 40 percent of the ballots back in this year’s municipal election.

As of noon, 17,809 ballots had been accepted, leaving more than 20,300 ballots unreturned. That accounts for a voter turnout of roughly 34 percent when all registered voters are considered.

“I was really hoping we’d get up to that 43 percent voter turnout like we did in 2013, but being that we’re only at 34 percent, I’m not sure if we’re going to get there,” said Rebecca Connors, elections supervisor.

Of the six City Council wards, only three have contested races in this year’s election. Nearly 51 percent of the ballots had been returned in Ward 3, where three candidates are vying for a single seat. Ward 4, which has four candidates on the ballot, had 43 percent of its issued ballots returned.

Mayor John Engen cast his ballot Tuesday at the Missoula County Fairgrounds.

Ward 5, the only other contested City Council race with two candidates running, had a turnout of just 41 percent. The three other City Council wards had just one candidate running.

“That might be another contributor (for the low turnout),” said Connors. “With those 8 o’clock results, we’ll probably report around 14,000 or 15,000 ballots and slowly get up to 17,000 or so.”

The first batch of results are expected at 8:10 p.m.

At noon, incumbent Missoula Mayor John Engen cast his ballot. He’s vying to hold his seat against challenger Lisa Triepke, one of several fiscal hawks running in this year’s race who have made taxes their central issue.

“We continue to operate from the perspective that we have a smart, engaged and informed citizenry, and we tried to talk about the issues that matter,” Engen said. “I heard from people in this campaign. I know property taxes are a concern and affordability is a concern, and it’s been a good experience.”

Triepke couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. Both mayoral candidates are expected to be downtown tonight as election results come in.