Don't underrate local elections - vote

If it weren't for the colorful signs on some lawns, you'd never know there are elections being held in most of the state's cities and towns next month.

True, a few contests have attracted some statewide attention, like the race for mayor of New Haven, mainly because a leading candidate's family is also the state's number one tax delinquent.

And The Day, working with other civic minded groups, will be hosting a series of debates in first selectman and mayoral races in the region, along with providing a Voters Guide online and coverage in the daily newspaper.

But these off, off-year elections, held in odd numbered years, are for purely local offices. And unlike the even numbered elections for president and high state and federal offices like governor and senator, they historically attract very low turnouts.

It doesn't seem to matter that these elections, ranging from mayor and first selectman to membership on town boards, actually have considerable impact on our daily lives, for good or ill. After all, the votes cast in these odd numbered years are for or against the people responsible for how well your community is run and your children are educated.

But look at the numbers. In 2012, 1.5 million of the state's 2.1 million eligible voters participated in the presidential election, which was just under a 74 percent turnout, though down slightly from the 78 percent reached in the historic 2008 race between Barack Obama and John McCain.

The year before, in the 2011 municipal elections, there were 1.9 million eligible voters but only 604,000 of them went to the polls. Not quite 31 percent.

Almost as disappointing, the 2010 race for governor, which turned out to be the closest in nearly 60 years, attracted a voter turnout of just 45.9 percent. That means well over half of the registered voters didn't care who would be the next governor or, more precisely, care enough to vote.

Voter participation in local elections in southeastern Connecticut is mixed, to put it in its most favorable light. In 2011, only 13.8 percent of Norwich's voters turned out on Election Day and Groton had 21.5 percent. New London's local turnout was better than many, at 38.25 percent, perhaps driven by an historic election for mayor as the city introduced a new form of government.

One reason for the poor participation in local elections is the large number of candidates running unopposed and it's harder to criticize voters who take a why bother attitude in these contests.

This is especially true in the smaller towns where long-time first selectmen, to cite one office, become local icons after lengthy service and are often unbeatable.

We admit it's easier to find reasons to stay home if you live in a town where key candidates are running unopposed but if you do, don't complain about the quality of your schools if you didn't vote for school board members, or about spending, if someone else elected the board of finance, the council or selectmen.

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.


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