Surprisingly, U.S. Senate hopeful Mike Taylor’s decision to drop out of the race has resulted in more, not fewer, voting choices. With the ballots already printed and Taylor’s name still on them, Montanans voting for U.S. senator can chose from Taylor, incumbent Max Baucus, Libertarian Stan Jones, Green Party candidate Bob Kelleher, and three write-in challengers.
Two of these write-in contenders, John Driscoll and Joe Nevin, registered after hearing Taylor’s announcement and hope to capitalize on the sympathies of disheartened Montanans. The write-in form doesn’t make party distinctions but Driscoll, a former state senator, considers himself an independent and Joe Nevin touts himself as a Republican alternative to Taylor. Mary Charbonneau, another independent, registered Sept. 27.
But even with all these new and old choices, many feel Taylor’s announcement can only negatively effect voter turnout.
Secretary of State Bob Brown has expressed concern that people won’t go to the polls because of Taylor’s decision, but he wants to remind voters that Taylor’s name is still on the ballot and that he is still a viable candidate.
Brown has also stated that Taylor’s decision doesn’t dampen voter turnout as much as the chilling effect of the negative campaigning.
“While mud slinging may win elections, research shows that the public is growing increasingly disgruntled with attack ads,” Brown said in a press release. “A Stanford University study found that the difference in voter turnout between positive and negative races can be as much as 4.5 percentage points. In a time when voter turnout is slipping perilously close to 50 percent, that’s a significant difference.” Democratic congressional candidate Steve Kelly agrees.
“It seems to me negative campaigning has the universal effect of driving turnout down,” says Kelly. “Both candidates went there and in the battle of negatives Baucus won. But none of that has anything to do with getting more voters to the polls.”
Kelly also sees an inverse relationship with the amount of big money pouring into campaigns and voter turnout.
“Let’s face it: Big money buys silence, it buys low voter turnout,” he says. “As the money increases in Montana politics, the voter turnout goes down.”
Libertarian Stan Jones thinks the Taylor announcement will benefit him, but he isn’t thrilled about the few extra votes.
“There will be some [Republicans] who will change their vote to me, there always are,” says Jones. “But I think it’s unfortunate that he dropped out. I guess I may have done the same thing if I were him.”