We often remember names from campaigns, but numbers are important in seeing and remembering the big picture of a particular election. Here are nine important numbers from Tuesday's election in Columbia.
1. Third Ward tie
Few active citizens will forget the 1102 to 1102 vote tie in the Third Ward between Roy Lovelady and Karl Skala. I’m sure there are Third Ward residents who planned to vote but forgot it was Election Day. That will teach us that, every now and then, your vote might determine the outcome. The tie will likely be broken when military and provisional ballots are counted within a week, so no coin-flip or runoff election will be necessary.
2. Mayoral results
Barbara Buffaloe was elected mayor with 8,538, or about 43%, of the 19,857 who voted. There were four moderate, articulate, informed candidates for mayor on election day. None were extremist or flame throwers. Randy Minchew was somehow tagged as the conservative candidate and received 39% of the vote. The other three were moderates and split 61% of the vote. Without a credible voter survey, we will never know for sure, but several David Seamon and Tanya Heath supporters told me they would vote for Buffaloe so they would not be spoilers. A change to rank choice voting would better reflect true citizen preference by reducing the need to vote for a candidate other than your favorite.
3. Voter Turnout
As an election junkie, the single most surprising number is the increased voter turnout of 7,715 voters, or 35%, compared with the Boone County election in 2019. Population growth was about 3%, so other influences were at work. My first thought is the increase is partly due to the competitive Third Ward where, in 2019, Skala ran unopposed and received 1,394 votes, where the total Third Ward votes increased by 873 or 62%.
Only 19,857 of Columbia’s 100,000 citizens over 18 years old voted for mayor. That’s only about 20% of adults voting for mayor. Buffaloe, the winning candidate, received 43% of the votes— but that’s actually 8.5% of the total adult population. That’s not the candidates’ fault, but it’s embarrassing for advocates for democracy. We need more voters.
4. Campaign Spending
Based on a report about campaign contributions occurring eight days before the election required by the Missouri Ethics Commission, the leading candidates generated about the same amount of contributions. Buffaloe reported $64,746 plus a late contribution of $15,772 while Minchew reported $84,802. I expect both of these numbers to increase in the required final report due 30 days after the election. This approximately $85,000 for Buffaloe and Minchew is less than the $129,873 received by Mayor Brian Treece in 2019 but more than his opponent Chris Kelly’s $57,461.
In the Third Ward tie, spending does not appear to be a critical factor. Skala received $8,043 and Lovelady $7,230 as of eight days before the election. If there is a runoff in this tied election, watch out! Spending will take off.
5. Two Use Tax Issues and a School Bond Passed
Proposition 1, a sales tax on internet sales, passed in Columbia with 58% approving and in Boone County with 54%. The result is to level the playing field for brick-and-mortar merchants competing with out-of-state merchants by collecting a 2% tax on remote sales in Columbia and a 1.75% tax on remote sales for Boone County. Ashland voters defeated their use tax proposal. The Columbia Public Schools Bond issue passed with 76%.
6. Columbia School Board election
This election seemed surprisingly without conflict given the past two years of often rancorous debates about COVID masks and school closings. The only incumbent seeking re-election, Blake Willoughby, won with 27% of votes and a newcomer, Suzette Waters, did a bit better with 30%. Interestingly, Willoughby and Waters, who reported campaign receipts of $3,425 and $8,565 respectively, were outspent by the two losing candidates Andrea Lisenby’s $12,180 and Adam Burke’s $13,430.
7. Withdrawal of Maria Oropallo
The single most important person, other than the candidates, was Maria Oropallo a fifth mayoral candidate, who withdrew March 12 when she accepted that she made a late start and would most likely not be successful. Her withdraw drew attention to the problem of having multiple candidates in a single vote election. She is also recognized for focusing on bus transportation as economic development issue, like the airport, and not as a public works concern, like street maintenance.
8. Number of polling places and poll workers
According to Boone County Clerk Brianna Lennon, there were 42 polling places across the county requiring 200 election judges. An election costs about $225,000 to administer. Lennon said that one of the most difficult tasks is recruiting election judges because both Democrat and Republican judges are required at every polling place.
9. Number of candidates
This election saw five candidates for mayor, two for the Third Ward, two for the Fourth Ward, and four for Columbia School Board. That’s 13 citizens who sought elected office, along with which comes remarkably long meetings, upset citizens, media commentary and potential electoral defeat. We should give them our thanks, attention, respect and scrutiny.
As I wrote last week, the winning candidates have a lot to do. For some citizens and journalists, campaigning is the fun part with meeting people, going door to door, attending meet and greets, hanging out at candidate watch parties and waiting eagerly for the results. However, governing is the ultimate goal that demands more planning, patience, persistence and just plain hard work. Good luck, election winners.