Montana’s Special Congressional election is now exactly two weeks out, and we’ve been tracking absentee ballots returned to help get a sense of how many votes will be cast overall.
Absentees have made up a steadily increasing share of the total vote:
And the number of mailed ballots has increased midterm over midterm, Presidential cycle over Presidential cycle:
For the current special election, over 347,000 ballots were mailed out. Over 138,000 have already been returned, 62% of the total absentees mailed back in 2014, and 41% of the 2016 tally. Of course, not every ballot sent out is returned: some voters just don’t bother, move, forget, die, kidnapped by space buffalo from planet Zarff, etc. But an overwhelming share of mail-ins find their way back:
Presidential cycles see higher return rates, but two of the last three midterms have seen a greater than 90% return rate. The worst cycle, 2014, still saw almost 89% of mailed ballots returned.
We are two weeks away from the special election, and already, almost 40% of the mail-ins have been returned. This number will only grow as we race through the final stretch of campaigning. It seems unlikely that the absentee return rate will be lower than 2014, so we should probably anticipate at least 90% of the 347,465 sent- 312,718- to roll back in. Considering the ever-increasing number of Montanans preferring this method of voting, its also very likely the number of votes cast by mail will exceed, considerably, the election day vote. At 60% (matching 2014’s share), the total expected count should be around 520,000. But since that tally would exceed the number cast in the last Presidential election, the mail-in share is more likely to exceed 65%, perhaps even 70%, yielding a smaller total count of 446,000 to 481,000. Even if our assumption of a 90% ABS return rate is too high- say it’s closer to 80%, we are almost certainly going to see more ballots cast in the May 25th special than were in the 2014 midterm. Not bad for an off-year election.