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Voter Turnout Down Regionally in Wake of Storm, Outage

Local election officials discuss low participation in Tuesday's elections.

Voters in most towns in Connecticut went to the polls Tuesday to cast ballots in municipal elections, charter revisions and spending referendums, however in many area towns turnout was disappointing, with some registering near-record lows.

For many registrars and poll moderators, the likely culprit was the weeklong power outage in the wake of winter storm Alfred and general voter apathy for local elections.

In Monroe, turnout dropped by almost 9 percent compared to the 2009 municipal elections, with only 33.2 percent of registered voters making it to the polls.

“Normally it’s 40 percent or higher,” Monroe Democratic Registrar Sue Koneff said, though “because of what we went through with the storm, people were trying to get their lives back in order and the election was pushed down on the priority list.”

Some people stayed home from work while their kids were out of school and “a lot of people left town” through the outage, Koneff offered, and went straight back to work when they returned, dismissing the elections.

Monroe’s 33.2 percent was not a record low, but certainly “low for a municipal election,” Koneff said.

“This was a big election,” with a double-sided ballot and “a lot of interest” in town prior to Tuesday. “Municipal elections don’t usually get the same attention as gubernatorial and federal elections,” but this year’s figures were surprising, she said.

“We were expecting a lot more interest in this race, it was hotly contested in town,” Southbury Republican Registrar JoAnn Bolin agreed, as Democrat Ed Edelson and his ticket won a surprise victory with only 38 percent of registered voters showing at the polls.

“It certainly was not the lowest ever,” Bolin added; that distinction is currently held by Southbury’s 2005 election, where the highest district had only 26 percent voter turnout and one failed to break into double digits. However, put next to recent comparable elections, turnout was noticeably down.

“We had a lot of guesses as to why,” Bolin’s counterpart, Democratic Registrar Marie Greene said. “But the bad weather really affected everyone — a lot of people were out of town and for a lot of seniors getting out and about after all that was just too much.”

Traffic at the polls picked up slightly in the evening, but even then there was “sporadic buildup, then nothing,” Greene said.

“If I had to venture a guess, I’d say the storm had to be a huge factor,” Brookfield poll moderator Paula Hopewell said in the wake of the second-lowest turnout for a municipal election in town history, 41.8 percent. (The lowest turnout on record was 33.7 percent in the 2007 municipal election.)

“People were just so overwhelmed, distracted and strung out,” Hopewell said, and those “who had their power back were taking their time to get their feet back on the ground.”

While the storm was a distraction, Hopewell also called out voter apathy as another potential source.

“For the presidential election in 2008, everyone was hyped up and we had a tremendous turnout, but everybody came in the morning,” she said. This year, “by mid-afternoon it was kind of a letdown.”

“When people are really fired up they come out to vote,” Hopewell added, noting that residents couldn’t blame the weather Tuesday, as it was clear skies and unseasonably balmy.

“If it had been raining it would have been worse,” Woodbury Democratic Registrar Anne Schwaikert agreed. “Not only was it a pretty day, but it was warm and there are some people who haven’t been warm in awhile” and likely would have jumped at the chance to get out of the house and regain some normalcy.

According to Schwaikert, the clear day and voter interest were the only things that kept turnout numbers up in Woodbury, where participation was “a little less” than past comparable elections, with a final turnout of 42 percent.

“We had a third entity on the ballot — maybe the vote would have been a little lower without that — and we had a charter question, too,” she explained, however the end result was “a little lower than we expected and a little lower than 2009,” though ultimately a difference of less than 200 votes.

In a recent interview, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said she is disheartened by low voter turnouts locally. She said people in surveys say they believe their vote doesn't count, however, "especially in local elections, nothing could be further from the truth.”

“People need to know the benefits of getting involved in their communities and why it is important if we are to preserve our high quality of life,” she said.

 

Town

Election Type

2011 Turnout

2009 Turnout

2007 Turnout

Bethel

Municipal

40 percent

42.8 percent

47.8 percent

Brookfield

Municipal, Spending Referendum

41.8 percent

46.4 percent

33.7 percent

Danbury

Municipal

32 percent

38.9 percent

44.8 percent

Middlebury

Municipal

52 percent

55.4 percent

51.2 percent

Monroe

Municipal

33.2 percent

42 percent

42.3 percent

Naugatuck

Spending Referendum

15.4 percent

17.8 percent

N/A

Newtown

Municipal

33 percent

40.4 percent

39.7 percent

Oxford

Municipal, Charter Questions

41.5 percent

47.6 percent

45.1 percent

Southbury

Municipal

38 percent

28 percent

39.7 percent

Woodbury

Municipal, Charter Questions

42 percent

44 percent

46.7 percent

Bob McGarrah November 10, 2011 at 12:25 PM
Paula Hopewell is right in attributing the low turn out, in part, to voter apathy. The Brookfield races were close. In one case only two votes more that the number that would require a recount. Yet 20% of the registered voters cast the deciding ballots. The other 20% wanted a different candidate. Sadly, 60% did not even care enough to vote. A famous quote-"In a Democracy the people get the government they deserve." How sad.

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