Boone County, national voter turnout decreases in 2012 election

Friday, November 9, 2012 | 6:28 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — People spoke with their votes in Tuesday's election — just fewer of them. 

The Secretary of State's office reported that 79,296 of the 125,339 registered Boone County voters cast their ballots in the election. That number gives the county a 63.27 percent turnout. 

Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren said that the numbers the Secretary of State's office uses do not accurately reflect active voters.

Noren said that active voters are people who live in Boone County and participate in its elections. However, the state keeps voters registered in counties even after they have moved away. They will remain registered until they fail to vote in two consecutive federal elections.

In counties like Boone where there is a large university population, this number can be quite inaccurate, Noren said.

"It is a very volatile number," she said.  

When the polls opened on Tuesday, the clerks office initially reported that 100,711 people were registered to vote in Boone County. Of that number, 79,296 people voted.

Noren said accurate statistics on active voter turnout will be available two weeks after the election, once all the address changes have been processed. Therefore, the number of voters considered active changes every election.

"18 to 19,000 people will come off the list after this election," Noren said.

Using the Secretary of State's numbers, voter turnout is down 7 percent from the 70.27 percent of eligible voters that cast their ballots in 2008.

Noren said that the number of active voters will reflect a decline in participation as well.

MU Political Science Department professor John Petrocik said there is often inflation in the voter participation statistics because the turnout is determined by dividing the number of ballots cast by the number of registered voters, not the number of eligible voters.

A disengaged electorate

The decrease in voter participation in Boone County reflects the national trend. Around 117 million Americans voted on Tuesday, which was a decrease from the estimated 131 million voters in 2008. This marks the first time voter participation has decreased since 1996.

Fourteen million fewer Americans exercised their right to vote this election.

"Barack Obama wasn't the rock star he was in 2008," Petrocik said. 

Apart from the decreased Obama fever, Petrocik said that he suspects Mitt Romney didn't inspire Republican voters either. Both campaigns failed to mobilize the electorate. 

But, Petrocik pointed out that voter turnout has little actual impact on election results. While many people feel that high voter turnout favors the Democrats, research by political scientists has not proved this theory. 

"Turnout has no party bias to it," Petrocik said. 

Petrocik said that what really impacts elections is the "defection rate," which is the sum of the percentage of Democrats who vote for the Republican candidate and proportion of Republicans who vote for the Democrats. 

Despite a decreased voter turnout in this year's election, Missouri traditionally has one of the higher voter participation rates in the country. 

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.

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