The 8.8 percent solution

16Sep16

election090816

It’s even worse than I thought.

A couple of weeks ago, we discussed Voter Fatigue and the steps that our state and local governments are taking to aid us in performing that onerous civic duty known as voting.

But until Thursday, September 8, I had no idea that for more than 90 percent of us, voting is not just a heavy burden. It’s damn near impossible!

Remember all the crap Phyllis Hull took earlier this year for requesting the July 19 Special Election to fill a vacancy on the Board of Selectmen?

“It will be a waste of money!” the born-again fiscal conservatives fulminated. “The turnout will be abysmal!” they railed. “Nobody will show up to vote in mid-July!” they howled. “It should be held at the same time as the State Primary in September when there are more people around to vote!” they demanded.

Well, that “wasteful” and “unnecessary” July 19 Special Election drew 50 percent more voters than the recent State Primary. That July 19 Special Election brought 2,247 voters to the polls, a turnout of 12.37 percent.

In the September 8 State Primary Election, 1,613 of Wakefield’s 18,372 registered voters made it to the polls. That’s 8.8 percent.

Where are the protests that the Primary was a waste of time and money? Where are the calls to schedule the next Primary Election in July when more people are around to vote?

migliore_signSome have blamed last week’s low turnout on the fact that the Primary Election had to be scheduled on a Thursday to comply with legal requirements for the number of days between the Primary and the Nov. 8 general election.

People are used to voting on Tuesdays, the apologists explained, not Thursdays.

I’m sure that was it. Nobody knew there was an election. It was easy to miss the lawn signs on every third house – if you were driving around town blindfolded.

election_flyersAnd all those flyers everybody got in the mail – enough to clear cut several forests if they hadn’t been dutifully printed on “30 percent post-consumer waste recycled paper” – it’s not as if they had “VOTE THURSDAY, SEPT. 8” splashed all over them in big, bright colors.

But I’m sure the low-voter turnout in the Primary will be spun as evidence that we need to enact still more measures to make voting “easier.” Because apparently 91.2 percent of Wakefield’s registered voters worked an 11-hour day on Sept. 8 and spent the remaining two hours that the polls were open dropping off or picking up young Jayden and Madison from school.

I’m going to make a bold prediction.

Between now and Nov. 8, the vast majority of voters will miraculously find a way to cast off the chains that kept them from voting in the Primary and will somehow make it to the polls to vote in the Presidential Election.

I confess. It’s really not such a bold prediction. I’m basing it on the historical record.

In the April 22, 2008 Annual Town Election, 2,702 (16 percent) of Wakefield’s 16,440 registered voters cast ballots. Seven months later, in the Nov. 4, 2008 Presidential Election, 14,246 (83 percent) of the town’s 17,114 registered voters turned out to vote.

Four years later, in the April 24, 2012 Annual Town Election, 3,559 (22 percent) of Wakefield’s 16,498 registered voters cast ballots. Seven months later, in the Nov. 6, 2012 Presidential Election, 14,576 (84 percent) of the town’s 17,297 registered voters turned out to vote.

Some will surely draw the conclusion that voting in April is hard and voting in November is easy, so therefore all elections should be held in November.

That was not a joke. Some town officials really are talking about moving the Annual Town Election from April to November to combine it every two years with either the Presidential Election or the state Gubernatorial Election as a way to increase voter participation in Town Elections.

What a swell idea! Let’s bring in voters who are barely engaged enough to vote for president every four years and let them determine who will run the town, oversee the school system and set the tax rate.

fenway100606Saying you increased turnout in the local Town Election by holding it at the same time as the Presidential Election would be like saying people pack Fenway Park every night to watch the umpires.

You’re not really fixing the reason for low turnout in local elections. You’re just artificially boosting the numbers to make it look better on paper. You may get more voters, but many of them will just be marking the first name they see on the ballot. The most important qualification for local elected office will be having a last name that begins with the letter “A.”

And if you think there’s low interest in local races in the spring when they are the only show in town, how much attention to you think a School Committee or selectmen’s race is going to get in November when there’s a heated presidential or governor’s race going on at the same time?

I’d rather have the 20 percent that pays attention to local affairs voting in a spring Town Election than the 80 percent who think Town Counsel is spelled “Town Council” and is the governing body that runs the town.

But hey, what do I know?

[This column originally appeared in the September 15, 2016 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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