As the heat of this summer eventually gives way to a hopefully cooler autumn, you can bet that the local political climate will be anything but cool. Soon the campaign signs will sprout up, the letters to the editor will fill the papers, campaign forums will be conducted by a variety of organizations, campaign literature will be mailed to you, and candidates and their supporters will go door-to-door – all of this to get you to vote for a candidate, and in some cases, not to vote for a candidate.
So how do you do it? How do you decide whom, if anyone, will get your vote? Does the money candidates spend on the signs and advertisements make a difference? Do the letters written by supporters of a candidate have an impact? Does what’s said by a candidate at a forum influence you? Are door-to-door campaigns effective?
We know that the so-called “off year elections” don’t produce the turnout that we see in even-year elections when Congress, state and county officials, and every four years the presidency is on the ballot. Lots of research tells us that people just don’t seem to get excited about local elections, even though local government has a dramatic impact on us in significant ways. We have local mayors, council/aldermen seats, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board, and a tax issue on the ballot, and yet few will actually vote.
So again, how do you decide if you will vote, and if so, how you will vote? I think many regular voters do so because they believe it’s something that they should do, a civic duty. Some vote because of an issue that’s important to them. Other might vote to support a friend. We also know some vote because they want to produce a change in leadership. Whatever the explanation, we know those who vote will be a small percentage of the eligible population.
In Orange County in the 2009, local elections we had 70,143 voters but there were only 11,819 ballots. That comes to a voter turnout of 16.65%! In the Chapel Hill Town Council election, the highest vote getter competing for one of the four seats on the ballot received 4,125 votes, and the candidate who came in fourth received 3,574 votes. Just how many people are there in Chapel Hill?
Why did so few elect not to participate? Some 8,000 people voted for one of the four candidates for Chapel Hill mayor and in total, all of the Council candidates received 26,481 votes from voters who could vote for four people. If all of those 8,000 mayoral voters voted for four Council candidates, that would be some 32,000 total votes for Council candidates. Those additional 5,000 plus other votes might have changed the outcome of the Council election and most probably, the decisions made later by the Council.
So how do you do it? To vote or not vote, yea or nay on this candidate or this referendum, or to use all of the available votes or not, these are all good questions. It would be great if more people studied the issues and the candidates and their positions and voted. One thing is certain and that is unless we see more voters this election, we will again have a small group determining our future.
What do you think?