Few Voters, Lack of Candidates in Municipal Elections

Posted: May 31, 2013

Where did all the voters go? In fact, where are the candidates for elected offices in our municipalities?

Primary elections historically attract fewer voters than do general elections.  But this year there seemed to be even fewer voters than usual.

More disturbing was the number of offices on the ballot for which no one was running.  In our representative democracy, where are the representatives?  And why aren't voters participating in the very activity that helps give voice to their concerns?

Let's take those open offices. In some communities, especially those facing a community dispute, people sometimes want to avoid being embroiled in the controversy.  Has gridlock in the federal government affected attitudes about local government as well?  In some communities, residents work long hours or far away and do not believe they have time to focus on community issues.

Service to one's community is a strong form of patriotism.  It's giving back to your neighbors, making your community the place everyone wants to live.

Not sure of the skills needed to perform the duties of office?  The first skill is the ability to listen, really listen.  Sometimes what the words say do not match the emotion behind the issue.  So really listen with both your eyes and ears.

Make decisions that provide good for the most people, keeping in mind both the vocal residents as well as the quiet ones.

Customer service is another valuable skill.  Serve people quickly and efficiently. If you cannot give them what they want, tell them who can help. Or acknowledge the problem with empathy and then tell them what the regulations are and why you cannot fulfill their wishes as desired.  Become familiar with those regulations so you can interpret them appropriately.  Training for nuts and bolts of the office is offered by statewide organizations of municipalities. 

Let's take a look at the low voter turnout.  In one community near where I live, there had been some very contentious municipal meetings immediately prior to the primary election. Yet fewer than 10% of registered voters came out to voice their choices.  In many counties, voter participation ranged in the area of 12-14%.

Polls were open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.  Was that still not long enough time for residents to commute to and from jobs and then cast their votes?  Some options exist.

In a few states, voting now takes place almost entirely by mail.  If saves time and gas and does result in higher participation rates.  Some have suggested that moving voting to a weekend or allowing voting to take place over several days could encourage participation. Sure, there are details and logistics to work out for each option, but other states have done it.  So can this state.

What are your thoughts?  Why do so many offices in local municipalities lack candidates?What would encourage more participation in primary elections? What would encourage more participation in general elections during non-presidential race years as well?