Tuesday’s city and school elections produced individual winners and losers, but a 13.4 percent voter turnout has to be viewed as a significant defeat for the community as a whole.
Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew called it a “pretty good turnout,” but it’s hard to see an election that draws only about a seventh of registered voters to the polls as any kind of success. It’s cold comfort to know that other Kansas communities are in the basement with us. A quick check Wednesday morning found that Tuesday’s local elections drew an 11.67 percent turnout in Topeka and 12.7 percent in Wichita.
Manhattan, on the other hand, had a comparatively stellar turnout of 21.5 percent. That exceeds even Shew’s hoped-for 20 percent turnout figure. Riley County election officials said they were pleased with the turnout. Like Lawrence their ballots included no special election questions, just candidate races.
Even though we’re not alone, such low voter turnout isn’t something the community should simply accept. Officials and community members should put their heads together, look at what other communities are doing and try to come up with ways to increase voter participation.
To all the candidates on Tuesday’s ballot, we say thank you for your willingness to mount a campaign and to serve in the community’s most important elected positions. It’s never easy to be an elected official but the challenges are even greater in the current difficult economy.
To the candidates who were elected, we wish you well in your new positions. Two city commissioners elected Tuesday have served on that body before, but the other winners in city and school races now will learn about the differences between running a campaign and actually serving on an elected body. Many issues that may have seemed pretty black and white to the candidates will take on various shades of gray after they take office.
Only 13 percent of registered voters turned out for Tuesday’s election but a far greater segment of the community now will be watching and judging the actions of the City Commission and school board. Several candidates put a high priority on involving the community in the public decision-making process. That’s a good goal, but when only 13 percent of community voters care enough to show up for the election, it may be difficult to attract a large public participation in making policy.
The voters — at least a few of them — have spoken. New city commissioners will take office next week and school board members on July 1. We hope the city and the school district will see progress and success during their tenure — and that two years from now, we’ll all see both a stellar list of candidates and a larger voter turnout for local elections.