Is it worth holding local elections for less than 15% turnout?

The Daily Herald asks whether the low turnout for Tuesday’s local elections in the Chicago area means the elections should not be held:

Voter turnout Tuesday was so poor area election officials were calling the effort a waste of tax dollars…

Numbers show no county in the area managed even a 15 percent turnout. Suburban Cook County faired the best overall with a 13.8 percent turnout, according to the summary report available online. Much of even that low number is attributable to interest in the special primary to replace Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. In other places, such as Palatine Township, the top vote-getter was township clerk candidate Lisa Moran with a mere 1,612 votes.

Without a Congressional draw on the ballot, Lake County logged a turnout of a little more than 11 percent. The low total left Lake County Clerk Willard Helander scratching her head…

In DuPage County, a narrowly focused ballot fueled a 3.9 percent voter turnout, officials said. Tuesday’s primary affected voters in only two precincts who could make a choice between five candidates for Aurora Ward 9 alderman…

Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham took that sentiment one step further. His county logged a 2.9 percent turnout. That works out to about one vote cast per minute in all of the county for the entire election day, Cunningham said. That’s not enough to justify the cost of running the election.

Those are some low turnout totals. To be honest, I didn’t even know there was anything to be voted on in DuPage County and I keep up with local news and regularly read the newspaper. If it hadn’t been for some of the coverage of New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg giving money in the race for Jesse Jackson Jr.’s former seat, I may not have known anything was being voted on.

Some obvious points (to me):

1. Why not vote for these offices and other matters during bigger elections? Yes, this may mean there is more for voters to consider at a time and it is hard to keep up with it all, but at least people would have more of an idea to vote.

2. In response to the low turnout, one county clerk asked whether people care about their local government. My short answer: no, not really. Most communities don’t generate the kind of involvement or major issues that consistently divide the community that would drive people to vote. Even in talking to local public officials, some of them will tell you that they got involved in local government because they saw something they wanted to change and then got involved.

3. I would love to see this story include some data about local voter turnout over time. We know that election turnout has dropped even with the bigger elections. What about these smaller elections? Is there a “golden age” when people used to care more about local government and voted?

3 thoughts on “Is it worth holding local elections for less than 15% turnout?

  1. Pingback: When Chicago suburbs disqualify candidates running for public office | Legally Sociable

  2. Pingback: Why Americans love suburbs #6: local government, local control | Legally Sociable

  3. Pingback: What it takes to run for local government positions in the Chicago suburbs | Legally Sociable

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