By Nathan Bourne

Vote shows rural/urban divide


November 15, 2018

The political divide between the rural and urban parts of Missoula County could be seen in the election results of several countywide and statewide races this year. Two countywide races in particular saw such high support from urban voters that it would be numerically impossible for rural voters to have changed the outcome.

The county has 52 precincts. There are 33 urban precincts within Missoula City's limits and the remaining 19 are outside the city.

In the Missoula County Sheriff/Coroner race between Democrat T.J. McDermott and Independent Travis Wafstet, voters favored McDermott in all 33 urban precincts by a wide margin of 66 percent.

McDermott held a narrow margin of just 111 votes in the rural parts of the county but Wafstet won more than 50 percent of the vote in 11 of the 19 rural precincts. Wafstet's largest support came from Frenchtown 14N where he attained 63 percent of the vote while McDermott's strongest support came from Senior Citizens 95 & 91 and Library 91 winning nearly 80 percent of votes.

Similar results were seen in the Open Space Bond election. The bond would have narrowly failed in the rural parts of the county with 14 of the 19 rural precincts voting against it. The bond easily passed in the urban areas with 31 of the 33 urban precincts voting for it. Again, 66 percent of urban voters supported the bond.

The Open Space Bond had its largest support come from UC Center 89 with nearly 90 percent approval. The least support came from Swan 92 where 61 percent of voters rejected it. Rural communities of Frenchtown, Clinton, Seeley Lake and Lolo joined the Swan in rejecting it.

When two thirds of urban voters support a candidate or bond it is numerically impossible for the rural parts of the county to change the outcome. The Open Space Bond passed in the urban precincts with 14,525 more yes votes that no votes. But with only 13,843 rural voters in the bond election even 100 percent voting no wouldn't have changed the results.

The sheriff race was similar with McDermott winning 12,817 more votes than Wafstet in the city and a total of only 12,795 rural voters.

When adding the voters back together countywide, voters approved the Open Space Bond and voted for McDermott with a 62 percent margin in both races.

In several other statewide races the rural precincts voted opposite of the city as well. The rural generally supported Republican candidates in the US House, US Senate and the Montana Supreme Court Clerk races, while the urban supported Democrats. Rural voters generally voted opposite the urban voters in three of the four statewide ballot initiatives only finding some common ground in voting for LR-129, prohibiting ballot collection by certain individuals.


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