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Matt Marsden quoted in Gongwer Michigan

Revsix do-founder Matt Marsden quoted in Gongwer Michigan discussing primary voter turnout.


Gongwer – 8/1/2014:  Tuesday Could See Historically Low Turnout

One item of buzz increasingly building as Tuesday’s primary elections approaches is the low rate of return on absentee ballots and what that might portend as far as overall turnout.

The low water mark on turnout for an August primary came in 1990 when 1,032,939 voters, or 15.1 percent of registered voters, cast ballots. There is talk that possibly fewer than 1 million voters will cast ballots this year.

Matt Marsden, public affairs director for RevSix Data Systems, which is tracking absentee ballots, said through Thursday there had been 482,430 applications for absentee ballots with 340,435 voters having returned them so far, for a 70.57 percent return rate. RevSix initially projected 586,000 absentee ballots.

Based on the pace of returns so far, Mr. Marsden said it appears 21 percent of absentee ballots distributed to voters will not be cast. He considered that a “significant number,” but since this is the first time he has tracked the data in such fashion, could not compare it to previous elections at this point.

“I don’t know what the reason for that is right now, but it certainly is an interesting statistic that should be looked at after this is over,” he said.

Mr. Marsden said he considered it strange that someone would either request an absentee ballot and not return it or be placed on a list to always receive an absentee ballot and not return it.

Others, like veteran Republican pollster Steve Mitchell, also have noted a much slower than usual rate of return on absentee ballots.

If turnout is historically low, it could have a significant effect on several key races in both parties with only the most devoted partisans showing up. How it could affect Proposal 14-1 to phase out the personal property tax on industrial property and redirect a portion of the use tax to local governments is unclear.

Mr. Marsden said RevSix’s projection is for just more than 1 million ballots to be cast in the primary, but he said that is probably overly optimistic at this point.

There is nothing at the top of the ticket to drive turnout with no primary in the gubernatorial or U.S. Senate races. But that is not unusual. There was no top-of-the-ticket primary in 2008, 2004, 2000 or 1992, for example. Those were also presidential years, however, where voters tend to be more engaged even if the presidential race was not on the August ballot.

Mr. Marsden said the lack of primaries for governor or U.S. Senate surely is playing some role.

“But depressed it to the point where we beat out 1990’s all-time low?” he said. “I would hazard a guess that there’s probably something more to it than that. But these things are usually learned after an exhaustive study.”

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