Howell County voters arrived Tuesday at the polls in the largest numbers seen for a midterm election since at least 2002, when the Missouri Secretary of State’s office began publishing county-by-county voter turnouts online.
Howell County voters submitted 14,686 ballots, about 56 percent of the county’s 26,386 registered voters, according to records provided by the Howell County Clerk’s office. Local turnout wasn’t far behind the state — Secretary Jay Ashcroft tweeted shortly before midnight Tuesday that about 58 percent of registered Missouri voters went to the polls, also the highest turnout for a midterm election since 2002.
Voters in Howell County voted in line with the rest of the state on most candidates and issues, diverging only on the office of State Auditor, Amendment 4 to change bingo regulations and Proposition B to change the state minimum wage.
Even on points of agreement with voters across Missouri, Howell County residents differed in just how much they agreed, most notably regarding candidates for U.S. Senate Eighth District, the retention of one Supreme Court judge and the passage of amendments 1 and 2.
A DIFFERENCE OF OPINION
Auditor Nicole Galloway, a Democrat, retained her seat with a five-point margin statewide. Howell County voters, however, expressed a strong preference for Republican challenger Saundra McDowell, giving her about 64 percent of the vote, compared to 32 percent for Galloway.
Galloway was appointed by former Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon after the February 2015 death of her predecessor, Tom Schweich. Tuesday’s election was her first bid for re-election after being appointed.
Other contenders for the seat were Libertarian Sean O’Toole, Constitutional Party candidate Jacob Luetkemeyer and Green Party candidate Don Fitz.
Amendment 4 to change the constitutionally-designated rules regarding bingo games gained approval by Missouri voters overall by a narrow margin of only 4.7 percentage points.
The amendment removes restrictions on game advertising ruled unenforceable by the state Supreme Court and allows members of licensed organizations to participate in game management after six months of membership. Previously, individuals were prohibited from doing so until they had reached two years of membership in a licensed organization.
While 52 percent of Missouri voters approved the changes, only 42 percent of Howell County voters agreed. A majority of about 58 percent opposed the amendment locally.
Proposition B was the issue on which Howell County diverged the most from voters statewide.
That proposition, passed by 62 percent of voters across Missouri, will amend Missouri statute to increase the minimum wage to $8.60 to start, followed by four annual 85-cent increases until the minimum wage reaches $12 per hour. Government employers are exempt from the increases, and the penalty for other employers who pay less than the minimum wage is increased.
In Howell County, about 53 percent of the ballots were cast against the proposition, leaving only 47 percent in favor.
A SPECTRUM OF AGREEMENT
Howell County voted in alignment with the rest of the state on the remaining candidates and initiatives Tuesday, but the strength of agreement varied.
Statewide, Republican Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley eked out a win over incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, in her bid for re-election, with just 51 percent of the vote. But in Howell County, 75 percent of voters supported Hawley’s challenge. McCaskill secured about 22 percent of the local vote, a dramatic drop from 45 percent statewide.
Hawley, who will be sworn into the Senate office in January, was elected in November 2016 as a political newcomer to serve as the state’s attorney general. His win ends McCaskill’s 11-year tenure as Senator. She has held elected offices since 1982, when she was first elected to the Missouri House of Representatives. She has also served as state auditor.
Three other contenders for the seat secured less than three percent of Howell County’s vote combined: independent candidate Craig O’Dear, Libertarian Japheth Campbell and Green Party candidate Jo Crain.
Nonpartisan Judge W. Brent Powell of the Missouri Supreme Court was up for retention. While 71 percent of Missouri voters opted to keep him on the bench, 83 percent of Howell County voters supported Powell’s retention. Powell was appointed to the Supreme Court by former Republican Gov. Eric Greitens in April 2017. This was his first bid for retention.
Local voters gave their approval to retain two other nonpartisan judges, though not quite as overwhelmingly.
Another Supreme Court justice, Judge Mary Rhodes Russell, was approved by 72 percent of Howell County voters, compared to about 79 percent of voters statewide. Russell was appointed by former Democratic Gov. Bob Holden in Sept. 2004 and Tuesday’s election was her second successful bid for retention.
Judge Jefferey Bates of the Southern District Appeals Court was retained with 75 percent of the statewide vote, but with 80 percent of the Howell County vote. He was appointed by Holden in November 2003; this is also his second successful bid for retention.
Amendment 1, known to many as “Clean Missouri,” passed fairly easily with 62 percent of the statewide vote. In Howell County, however, the constitutional ethics reform changes squeaked through with only 52 percent of the voters’ approval.
The amendment changes the way legislative districts are redrawn, as carried out by a newly-created and appointed state demographer, chosen by the state auditor and state Senate majority and minority leaders.
It also changes limits on campaign contributions and lobbyist gifts, prohibits legislators and staff from working as paid lobbyists for a period of time, prohibits political fundraising on state property and opens legislative records and proceedings to the public.
While two initiatives supporting the legalization of medical marijuana were handily defeated by voters across Missouri and in Howell County, one passed. Amendment 2 squeezed by in Howell County with 51 percent of the vote, but statewide, earned 66 percent voter approval.
The constitutional amendment tasks the Department of Health and Human Services with maintaining and enforcing the rules regarding a newly-created medical marijuana program implemented statewide. Revenue from a retail tax of 4 percent will support the Missouri Veterans Commission.
Amendment 3, known to many as the “Bradshaw Amendment,” was defeated by a resounding 69 percent of Missouri voters; in Howell County, votes against the amendment made up 73 percent of the ballots cast. That constitutional amendment would have created a new state “research board,” purportedly to find cures for diseases that had none, and charged a 15 percent retail tax for administration and research.
A third medical marijuana option, Proposition C, was also defeated by 56 percent of Missouri voters and 62 percent of Howell County. That change to state statute was similar to the changes set forth in Amendment 2, with the lowest retail tax of 2 percent, from which revenue would have been shared among assorted groups.
EIGHTH DISTRICT AND FUEL TAX
Incumbent U.S. Rep. Jason Smith (R-Eighth District), held onto his position effortlessly with districtwide support of 73 percent. In Howell County, 79 percent of voters confirmed his bid for re-election. Democratic challenger Kathy Ellis trailed behind with 25 percent of the district’s vote and 19 percent of the county’s.
Libertarian Jonathan Shell was also a contender for that seat.
Smith took office as U.S. Representative after a special election held in June 2013, filling the seat vacated by predecessor Jo Ann Emerson. Tuesday marked Smith’s third bid for re-election.
Proposition D that would have increased the state fuel tax by 10 cents with four annual 2.5-cent increases, was also defeated, 54 percent of voters statewide and 63 percent locally.
The additional revenue would have increased the Missouri State Highway Patrol’s share of the constitutionally-allocated Road Fund from 8 cents to 10 cents, and the Missouri Department of Transportation’s (MoDOT’s) share from 9 cents to 17 cents.