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Montana: Comparison of Registered Voter Counts to Census Voting Age Population

By Earl F Glynn | Franklin Center

A comparison of US Census voting age population data in Montana to voter registration data shows two small counties, Carter and Treasure, have over 95% of their voting age population registered to vote.

Daniels County had 100+% of voting age population registered to vote from 2000 to 2010 and then in 2012 dropped more than 10% of its voters to have less than 90% registered now.  What happened?

Four counties have about 36% “inactive” voters, while three counties have a rate of 1% or less.  Why is there so much variability among the counties in voter status?

Charts by county for the years 2000 to 2012 show how counties are maintaining their voter lists.

There is higher voter fraud potential in areas of unmanaged voter lists and areas of high voter list bloat measured by inactive voters.

Montana county governments that are responsible for managing elections score poorly on transparency issues based on Sunshine Review’s evaluations.


Overview

Yearly US Census population estimates for the 56  Montana counties were extracted for the years 2000 through 2011.

Voter registration totals were extracted from the Montana Secretary of State’s web site for the years 2000 through 2012.

Active and inactive voter registration counts by county were obtained from a file of Montana voter registration data from Feb. 2012.

The census and voter registration data were plotted for easy visual comparison of any particular year. Trends over time can also be studied.


Results: County Charts

View the PDF with a chart for each Montana County comparing US Census Voting Age Population to Registered Voter Counts [57 pages: 56 counties, state total]

(click on graphic to view PDF)

General comments about all charts:

  • The black line represents the total county population from the Census 2000 and the Census 2010 enumeration and census estimates for other years.
  • The blue line represents the census voting age population counts or estimates, those 18 years or older.
  • The red “+” marks represent total voter registration numbers as reported by the Secretary of State in official election canvasses.
  • The red circle shows total voter registration counts from a file of Montana registered voters.  The green triangle shows the number of “active” voters.

NOTE: US Census estimates are not as accurate for smaller areas on a relative basis. See Limitations in US Census Voting Age Population.


Results for Selected Montana Counties

Carter County:  Small County very near 100% registration of census voting age population

(click on image to enlarge)

Carter County and Treasure County are the only Montana counties near 100% registration  of US Census voting age population at present.

Increasing total voter registration with a flat or deceasing population is an indication of an unmanaged list.


Daniels County:  Example of improvement after a decade of 100+% registration

(click on image to enlarge)

Daniels County had 100+% registration of US Census voting age population from 2000 until late 2010, but 2012 numbers show a drop to below 90%.   What changed?


Liberty County:  Why are Census estimates so poor in this county?

(click on image to enlarge)

The yearly census estimates for Liberty County showed a steady decline from 2000 until 2009 but actual 2010 census numbers showed an increase over the decade.  Why is voter registration still declining when there is a population increase?


Yellowstone County:  Most populous county in state reflects statewide trends

(click on image to enlarge)

Yellowstone County and the Montana state totals show a general increase of population but mostly flat voter registration.


Details of Technical Approach

Let’s first review the needed raw data files and then discuss the processing to create the charts above.

Raw Data: Montana Voter Registration Statistics

The Montana Secretary of State publishes Official Election Results online in PDF files.

On the first PDF page of the “statewide” election results from 2000 through 2012 the statewide general canvass includes the number of registered voters by county.

The first page of these PDFs were converted to Excel files using the Able2Extract Professional program since PDFs cannot be read by analysis programs.

A current table of Montana voter registration numbers by county can be found in this Excel file.

A Combine-MT-XLSX.R script was used to combine voter registration statistics by county by date for all the various Excel files with Montana voter registration totals. The summary for 2000 to 2012 was written to the single file, Montana-Voter-Registration-2000-2012.csv.

Raw Data: Montana Voter Registration File

Part of the Technical Analysis of Montana Voter Registration Files gives a summary of the VOTER_STATUS field by county.  View a PDF version of that cross tabulation here.

The voter file summary shows total registration and a breakdown of active and inactive voters for a particular date.


Raw Data: US Census Data for Montana

The links below are to the raw online Montana census data at the US Census site. Annual Estimates of the Resident Population by Selected Age Groups and Sex for Montana Counties:

The technical article US Census Voting Age Population gives details of extracting US Census data for all states, including Montana, and plotting charts of that data.

Updated US Census county population estimates for July 1, 2012 are expected in April 2013.


R Program

After pre-processing the raw data described above, we can create charts showing US Census voting age population in Montana and the number of registered voters by county.

Input files

Census files:

Voter registration summary files:

Processing Script: Montana-Voting-Age-Population-and-Registered-Voters.R

After reading voter registration data into data.frames (voter.stats.total, voter.file) the script called function get.voting.age.census.data to read Montana census data.

The census data was passed to the plot.county.population.charts function for plotting along with a “callback” function.

The plot.county.population.charts function plotted the census data and then used the plot.montana.registration “callback” to plot the registration data on the same chart.

Output files


Observations about County Charts

  • Carter County and Treasure County are the only Montana counties near 100% registration of US Census voting age population at present.
  • Daniels County had 100+% registration of US Census voting age population from 2000 until late 2010, but 2012 numbers show a drop to below 90%.   What changed?
  • Liberty County:  The yearly census estimates for Liberty County showed a steady decline from 2000 until 2009 but actual 2010 census numbers showed an increase over the decade.  Why were census estimates so poor for this county?  If the population increased, why is there still a general decline in voter registration?
  • Petroleum County has 95% registration of voting age population at present.
  • Powell County has only about 60% of voting age population registered.  Why so low?
  • Toole County shows little population change.  Why is voter registration generally declining?
  • Treasure County:  Census estimates for Treasure County showed a general decline from 2000 until 2009, but actual 2010 census counts showed a slower decline was more likely.  Regardless, for the last 12 years voter registration in Treasure County has been near 100% of  Census voting age population.
  • Yellowstone County and the Montana state totals show a general increase of population but mostly flat voter registration.
  • High % Inactive VotersCascade (36.9%), Blaine (36.9%), Missoula (36.8%), Gallatin (35.7%).   [The distance between the red circle and the green triangle reflects the inactive voters in the charts above.]
  • Low % Inactive VotersWheatlan (1.3%), Dawson (0%), Garfield (0%).  Is any voter lit maintenance going on in these counties?
  • What can be done for more uniformity in inactive voter rates across all counties?

Click on county name links above for Sunshine Review‘s evaluation of county government transparency.  Overall, Montana county governments received a “D” on transparency while the state received a “B”.


References


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