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Low voter turnout measured in recent town elections

May 17, 2004|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

Washington County party leaders, town officials and candidates from three of the towns in Washington County that had elections had at least one notable thing in common in 2004 - disappointment in the voter turnout.

Some said 2004 marked the lowest turnout they had seen for their respective town elections in many years.

Rick Hemphill, chairman of the Washington County Democratic Central Committee, and Mark Boyer, former chairman of the county's Republican Central Committee, said voter turnout during three community elections earlier this month - Smithsburg, Funkstown and Boonsboro - was very low.

"I lament the fact that voter turnout is so low. Voting is such a valuable right that I think people should do it as often as they can," Hemphill said.

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Hemphill said the low turnouts may mean residents are pleased with the direction of the town's government. He said most go to the polls to "vote against" someone or something.

In Smithsburg, 130 people out of 1,547 eligible residents (8 percent total) voted in the town council election. Smithsburg Clerk/Treasurer/Manager Betsy Martin said the town tried to accommodate voters and bring more out, unsuccessfully, by extending voting hours this year. Comparatively, 336 of 1,396 voted in the 2002 council election, a 24 percent total.

In Funkstown, 76 of 983 eligible residents (or 14 percent) voted in the town council election. Town Clerk Brenda Haynes said it was lowest turnout in several elections. In 2002, 122 ballots were cast out of a total of 513 voters, a total of 24 percent.

In Boonsboro, 180 of 1,578 eligible residents voted in the town council election, an 11 percent turnout. That turnout was slightly larger, by percentage, than that of the 2002 election, which saw just more than 10 percent (147 of 1,367 voters) turn out.

Hemphill and Boyer agreed that in small-town, nonpartisan elections, people only will come out if there are hotly contested issues.

"It has to be issue-driven," Boyer said. "If there's not a big divisive issue, it's really tough to motivate people to get out to vote."

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