Statewide voter turnout records set in Missouri

Wednesday, November 5, 2008 | 8:55 p.m. CST; updated 9:01 p.m. CST, Wednesday, November 5, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Statewide voter turnout was slightly higher than in the 2004 general election but not as high as the Missouri secretary of state's office had projected.

Sixty-nine percent of registered Missouri voters turned out on Election
Day, despite earlier projections of as high as 76 percent.

Secretary of State Robin Carnahan had projected that up to 3.2 million Missourians would vote Tuesday, but only 2.9 million showed up to the polls.

The projection was based on estimates gathered from election officials across the state, secretary of state spokesman Ryan Hobart said.

"Despite it not being as high as we'd hoped, it's a record that so many people came out to vote," Hobart said. "We would have liked it to be that high, but we had an amazing turnout." 

MU political science professor emeritus David Leuthold, author of two books on Missouri politics, said the voter turnout was "probably the biggest ever" and attributed it to a large voter turnout effort coupled with an exciting election.

"They can work very hard on voter turnout, but if the race isn't very exciting, then (voters) won't come," Leuthold.

Statewide, there were 4,194,146 registered voters in 2004. Voter turnout was 65 percent.

According to the Boone County clerk's office, 83.65 percent of the 102,188 registered voters in the county went to the polls on Tuesday.

Leuthold said the large percentage of voters in Boone County was tied to enthusiasm for the presidential race from young people.

"More than half of young people fail to vote the first time they're eligible," Leuthold said. "But at times, there are particular issues that will draw a large number to the polls, and this year, it was Obama. Everybody was getting excited, including people who weren't necessarily supporting Obama."

Republican Party spokeswoman Tina Hervey said that the high turnout meant candidates couldn't run campaigns based on fluffy stump speeches and attack ads.

"It had to be about substance; it had to be about what candidates were going to do to improve the lives of Missourians," Hervey said.

State Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County, said at Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Nixon's election rally that she thought it was the combination of Nixon and the winner of the presidential election, Barack Obama, on the ticket that drove people to the polls.

With all 3,353 precincts reporting, Nixon won the governor's office with 58.4 percent of the vote.

Because the race was so close between Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain, Missouri election officials are counting the state provisional ballots, but Hobart said only a third of the 7,000 provisional ballots will likely be viable. Obama and McCain are separated by 5,868 votes.

Democratic spokesman Zac Wright said as people look at the numbers over the next few days, they will find that 2008 was a historic election.

"I think that goes back as a testament to what this election was about, which was a change from the course that we've been on for the better," Wright said.

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