Tuesday\'s elections may rely on rural voters

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COLUMBIA - Tuesday's election will determine the fate of five constitutional amendments, but local officials said election turnout is too complex to predict. 

The Missouri Secretary of State's office compiles projections from local election jurisdictions into a statewide projection.  Deputy Director of Communications for the Secretary of State's office Kevin Flannery said this year's estimate is 26.93 percent of Missouri's close to 4.1 million registered voters will come to the polls Tuesday. That's about 1.94 million people. 

"There aren't any partisan races to speak of," said Terry Smith, a political science professor at Columbia College. "This is the first time since 1998 that we haven't had a statewide election for either governor or senator, and actually the only statewide office that's being run is unopposed."

With the only partisan elections at the local level and no hotly contested elections in Boone County, Smith said those who do vote Tuesday will be what he calls "highly motivated single-issue" voters. He said they are voters without a strong connection to either political party or a political candidate. 

"Anyone who thinks they have a crystal ball for an election is probably going to get in trouble," Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren said. "This is a particularly tough one to plan for because we don't have any big statewide races like we normally do in a primary."

Noren said there isn't much voter history on state constitutional issues, so determining the exact number of projected voters is tougher than normal. Noren said a good primary turnout for Boone County is about 20,000 people. 

"We have a group of nine to ten thousand voters that will vote every single election," Noren said. Those voters are primarily concentrated in Columbia's fourth and fifth wards and parts of the second ward. 

Both Smith and Noren loosely compare Tuesday's election to the 2004 primary, which was the largest primary election in Missouri history. That year, 67,000 more votes were cast on the issue of the same-sex marriage ban than for any of the competitive seat races. Boone County alone saw about 40,000 votes. However, both said the same-sex marriage ban was just one single polarized issue, whereas this year there are five. 

Without a hotly contested statewide office race or a singular hot-button issue, Smith predicts Tuesday's turnout will be relatively low. 

"It's possible that there will be a disproportionate rural turnout," Smith said. "There aren't a lot of races in the cities...but many of these issues really affect out-state Missouri. Transportation, for sure. Farming, obviously. And gun rights, I think that rural voters may feel more strongly about that than urban voters."

Noren agrees Tuesday's election may bring out rural Missouri voters, but other demographics may play an equal role. 

"There is an issue that will appeal to rural voters," Noren said, "but then we've got the issue on electronic privacy. That seems to be drawing out some younger people that may not have voted in a primary before."