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Monday, December 5, 2011

Registrars lament low turnout in municipal elections

As published in the Record Journal, Thursday November 24, 2011

By Russell Blair
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2225

Turnout for the Nov. 8 municipal election was similar to two years ago and that’s the problem, according to local registrars of voters. Not enough people participate, they say. Wallingford led area towns with 39.56 percent of registered voters coming out to the polls, followed by Cheshire at 30.48 percent, Southington at 29.33 percent and Meriden at 23.62 percent. Statewide, 30.67 percent of the 1,940,432 eligible voters cast ballots. Samuel Carmody, Wallingford’s Democratic registrar, said that, even though the town was almost 10 percent better than the statewide average, it was still not a noteworthy accomplishment.

“Below 50 percent, that’s nothing to be proud of,” he said.

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said she hoped voter turnout would rise in future elections.

“I hope in the future we can help all of Connecticut’s citizens understand the importance of choosing the right leaders in their communities so we can see more people going to vote,” she said in a statement. Turnout in Wallingford was up from 2009, when it was 35.6 percent, a year that Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. ran unopposed. In 2001, 2003, 2005 and 2007, turnout was 43.1, 49.9, 47.6 and 45.7 percent, respectively. Dickinson had an opponent in each of those years.

Carmody said it was hard to predict the reasons for turnout in a given year.

In Southington, 8,041 voters came out to decide the makeup of the Town Council, Board of Finance, Board of Education and Planning and Zoning Commission. Turnout was about the same as 2009, when 8,317 voters came out, or 29.8 percent of the electorate.

Southington’s Democratic registrar, Edward Malczyk, said there “were no burning issues in town” that might have driven people to the polls.

“I think that played into it,” he said. “The snowstorm, the power outages worked against us. I thought the middle school referendum would have brought more people out though.”

Despite a rare October snowstorm that left much of the city in the dark for up to a week, Meriden voters came out in numbers similar to past municipal elections. In elections for mayor, City Council and Board of Education, 7,557 voters cast ballots, compared to 7,845 in 2009. Percentagewise, turnout increased by a fraction of a percent.

But the city’s Democratic registrar, Maureen E. Flynn, said the numbers were still disappointing.

“The lowest voter turnouts are municipal,” she said. “People have to vote for the president, but not during the municipal elections. But who are you going to call if there’s a pothole? You should vote for the people you complain to.”

Flynn said that if Meriden had a strong mayor the turnout could have been higher, but she added that it was similarly low this year in cities that have that system of government.

In Cheshire, turnout was about 6 percentage points below 2009. That year, 6,624 people, or 36.3 percent of registered voters, cast ballots.

Aleta Looker, Democratic registrar of voters, said she felt the snowstorm could have had an impact on Cheshire’s electorate.

“I think it’s partly because of the aftermath of the storm,” she said. “They had too much on their plate already.”

Looker said that she’d like to see more voters in local elections, but “you can’t legislate people’s behavior.”

“When people vote, that’s their right and privilege,” she said. “But not everyone sees it that way.”

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