Four years ago, the last time Billings held a city primary election, the turnout was 22 percent with 11,161 ballots cast.
Billings citizens can seize the opportunity between now and Sept. 15 to boost participation in this year's primary. And they can do so without even leaving home, driving to a polling place or standing in line. The Yellowstone County Elections Office mailed 54,000 city election ballots Wednesday. The city election is being held by all-mail ballot because Duane Winslow, county elections administrator, following state law, recommended it to the City Council as the best administrative and economic choice for this election. Winslow predicts the mail ballot could boost voter participation to 20,000 or 25,000.
The all-mail election also will be less expensive for the city, costing about $50,000 instead of $70,000 for a traditional election. Having an election with 30 polling places open around town requires the hiring of more than 150 election judges to work on Election Day, versus about 20 for all-mail ballot. In addition, there are about 22,000 city voters on the permanent absentee list who request mail ballots that must be sent for every election anyway.
This primary matters. Five men are running for mayor of Billings; the primary will determine which two proceed to the Nov. 3 general election. In the Heights Ward 2, an open council seat has attracted five candidates, but only the two top voter-getters on Sept. 15 will go on the general election ballot. The city's other four wards also will vote on council candidates.
The Billings Gazette invited mayoral candidates to write brief essays, which appear on today's Opinion page. Commentaries from Heights City Council candidates will be printed on Monday's Opinion page. The Gazette encourages readers to become informed voters so they can select the best people to lead our growing city.
Be sure to vote the city ballot you received in the mail and see that it gets back to the elections office before 8 p.m. Sept. 15.