Opinion: Five Facts About MoCo Election Turnout
Many more people voted than in recent years
The State Board of Elections has finally released official turnout statistics on the 2018 general election. Here are five facts about turnout in MoCo.
Overall turnout was way up in the general election.
The chart below shows total turnout in MoCo’s gubernatorial general elections since 1990. Since topping 60 percent in the 1994-2006 period, turnout fell to 42 percent in 2014. This year it rebounded to 63 percent. Will turnout stay at that level in future gubernatorial general elections or is this a one-time bump due to national politics?
For the first time, more third party and unaffiliated voters voted in the gubernatorial general election than Republicans.
The chart below shows the percentage of votes cast by members of each party in MoCo’s gubernatorial general elections since 1990. Republicans accounted for 30 percent or more of votes cast in the 1990s, but since then, their percentage has been slipping while the votes cast by unaffiliated and third-party voters has been rising. This year, unaffiliated and third-party voters actually exceeded Republicans. Meanwhile, the Democratic percentage was at its highest level since at least 1990. MoCo Democratic Party officials should send a thank you card to President Trump.
Minority areas lagged in turnout
Voters do not report their race when registering with the board of elections. But U.S. Census Bureau data on census tracts can be used to calculate racial distributions of the population by precinct. The table below shows voting turnout by precinct racial distribution. Primarily white precincts saw turnout exceeding heavily black and Hispanic precincts by 10-15 points. The gaps in the general election are smaller than the gaps in the 2018 Democratic primary. In the primary, primarily white precincts had turnout advantages over heavily black and Hispanic precincts of up to 20 points.
The Democratic Crescent played a smaller role in the general election than it did in the Democratic primary.
The Democratic Crescent, an area comprising Takoma Park, Downtown Silver Spring, Chevy Chase, Kensington, Bethesda and Cabin John, plays a disproportionate role in MoCo Democratic primaries. As of 2015, it had 23 percent of the county’s population, 29 percent of its registered Democrats and 37 percent of its regularly voting Democrats. It accounted for a majority of contributions in public financing as of last March. Accordingly, all county-wide Democratic candidates pay extra attention to this region.
In the 2018 Democratic primary, the crescent accounted for 34 percent of votes cast. Upcounty, defined here as Ashton, Boyds, Brookeville, Clarksburg, Damascus, Dickerson, Gaithersburg, Germantown, Montgomery Village, Olney, Poolesville and Sandy Spring, accounted for 25 percent of votes cast in the Democratic primary. However, in the 2018 general election, upcounty accounted for 31 percent of votes cast versus 27 percent for the crescent. That’s because upcounty has lots more Republicans and unaffiliated voters than the crescent does and those people vote in general elections.
Takoma Park and Downtown Silver Spring are two of the least Republican areas in the country.
In the 2018 general election, 9,182 residents of Takoma Park precincts voted. Of them, just 275 – 3 percent! – were Republicans. The GOP fared only slightly better in the Silver Spring precincts inside the Beltway. In that area, Republicans accounted for 1,499 of 25,210 total voters – just 6 percent. On the other side, Republicans accounted for 38 percent of Damascus voters, almost equal to the 42 percent of voters there who were Democrats.
Adam Pagnucco is a writer, researcher and consultant who is a former chief of staff at the County Council. He has worked in the labor movement and has had clients in labor, business and politics.