Turnout defeat

It’s impossible for us to see a 13.4 percent voter turnout as “pretty good.”

April 7, 2011


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.


Paul R Getto 7 years, 2 months ago

Lawrence is fascinating; a political hotbed with a wonderful stew of different opinions and passion 364 days a year. Then, on the one day it counts the most, 6-7 percent pick the winners and losers and 8 or 9 of ten stay home and disenfranchise themselves. Then, on the next day of the year, they begin to whine and b*tch for another 364 days. Next time, get out and vote, please.

Maddy Griffin 7 years, 2 months ago

Agreed! I've seen more people than that how up for a caucus...in a snowstorm! Those who didn't get out and vote should be ashamed.. and they have NO right to complain. They got what they deserve.

George Lippencott 7 years, 2 months ago

Interesting editorial – an indictment of the voting process. Has anyone considered the possibility that voter turnout is low because there were no real issues on the table. The wife and I researched the positions of the various commission and school board candidates (thank you LJW for the coverage). Using that information, we found it difficult to determine any meaningful differences among most of the candidates.

The candidates tended to be for and against the same things. There was little or no passion. Their positions could be summed up as we will do good things and we would rather not discuss how we would pay for them. The candidates certainly seem to know how to avoid issues. Such uniformity essentially reduces an election to a personality choice.

For those disturbed by low turnout, maybe they should demand more meaningful and comprehensive positions from the candidates – maybe even a “platform”. Perhaps our non-partisan process is having the exact effect we might expect – there is no partisanship (differences) among the choices. Perhaps the process is working well in that the candidates perceive what the majority of the electorate wants and offers exactly that

I suspect we can get numbers up by linking local elections to state and national elections. However, we might stop to ask if that will improve the quality of our choice or just make us feel better about the numbers?

jafs 7 years, 2 months ago

There wasn't as much diversity as I would have liked, but there were distinct differences between candidates.

Did you use the candidate selector option? That allowed you to rate the answers you agreed with without knowing the names of the candidates. Very interesting.

And doing so produced clear winners for me.

George Lippencott 7 years, 2 months ago

JAFS you would argue with the end of the world. Obviously, my comments were my opinion as there is no “scientific” way to rate candidates. What you might consider significant may be irrelevant to me. Each voter has to make the matrix of relevance

Charles L. Bloss, Jr. 7 years, 2 months ago

I voted early, outside of Lawrence. I went down there, filled out an advance voting form, got the ballot and went into the booth. They gave me the wrong ballot. Once they got that straightened out and gave me the correct one, the only thing on the ballot was three school board positions. Had I known what was on the ballot, you can bet I wouldn't have made the trip.

jafs 7 years, 2 months ago

Why didn't you know what was on the ballot before you went to vote?

In Lawrence, we've had numerous stories in the paper about how many candidates were being selected, both at the city commission and school board levels.

Matt Needham 7 years, 2 months ago

I understand the feelings expressed by people who didn't vote. I found the candidates remarkably skilled at not really answering questions, and I didn't feel particularly confident in the people I voted for. But even if you are completely disgusted with your choices in a particular election please go out and vote. Write in your uncle if you have to. Vote for Micky Mouse. Please just participate. It does matter. If we could show a 40% or 50% voter turnout it would terrify the powers that be. It might even inspire some real leaders to run.

Brent Garner 7 years, 2 months ago

It is appalling indeed that we have such low voter turnout not only in local elections but national as well. In the last presidential election barely over 50% of the listed voters voted. Which means that unless the winning candidate takes practically every vote, he or she has been elected by a minority of voters.

Why is this so?

Apathy is certainly one cause. Ignorance of the process is another. A lack of education regarding the civic duty called voting is another. But, there is also an entirely different reason why the numbers look so bad. The voter rolls are incorrect! Did you know that if a person moves from their registered voting area to another that they have to personally contact the election officials in their former area in order to have their name removed from that list of voters? A phone call is insufficient. This must be in writing. I lived in Lawrence for roughly 20 years. As my children grew up and left the area I found in interesting that their names continued on the voter lists. I knew this because when I would go to vote I could see their names listed near mine! I mentioned this to election officials and learned of the requirement for the written contact in order to remove the name. I was also told that very few such requests ever come in.

As a result, there is a high probability that our voter lists are inflated as to numbers. It is entirely possible that a good number of those names listed are no longer even there. Thus a 15% turnout on an inflated voter list looks bad but it may actually represent 30% of the actual voters living in the area.

Sadly, election officials are sharply limited as to what they can do under current laws. Perhaps something needs to be changed?

Sigmund 7 years, 2 months ago

There was never any real choice. There wasn't a dimes worth of difference between any of them. No matter who gets elected all we ever get is the same bull, even if their platitudes differed slightly. In the end it was the same, or recycled, downtown cronies making sweet deals for downtown landlords.

Had there been one candidate proposing a 10% across the board cuts in the budget, I promise you there would have been a higher turnout. They may not have won, but the turnout would have been higher.

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