New Castle News

Closer Look

May 24, 2013

Our Opinion: Lousy voter turnout is a missed opportunity

NEW CASTLE — Tuesday’s primary in Lawrence County had its share of winners and losers.

But — based on the numbers — the biggest winner has to be voter apathy.

Countywide, voter turnout in the primary was a whopping 17.1 percent. In case you missed it, our use of the term “whopping” is sarcasm.

Now, some people will argue — with considerable legitimacy — that there were precious few choices on the ballot. In many communities, that was true, with no contested school board or other local races to decide.

But even where there were important and hotly contested positions, voter turnout was abysmal.

In the city of New Castle, for instance, there were significant choices for the positions of city council and school board. And while the turnout in New Castle was better than the county average, just 20 percent of the registered voters in the city bothered to cast primary ballots.

This is disappointing, because in local races, primaries may be where the real decisions are made, in terms of who wins office. At the very least, they whittle down the possibilities of who will be successful in November.

It’s easy to be critical of voters who fail to cast ballots. After all, that’s their most potent tool for influencing local government.

Believe it or not, politicians pay attention to people who vote. Those who complain about government, and then don’t bother to show up at the polls, are hard to take seriously.

Yet there’s also something to be said of candidates who can’t generate enough interest to get voters to respond. Those who run for office can’t expect to put their names on the ballot and assume that’s enough. It’s essential to find ways to reach out to voters in order to draw their support. If voters have no means of gauging which candidates are worth backing, they are far less likely to bother to vote.

Although Tuesday’s primary contests were largely local affairs, that doesn’t mean candidates should be content to limit their supporters to a confined circle. If there are real issues at stake, then it’s imperative for those running to solicit votes from other segments of the community.

Judging from Tuesday’s paltry turnout in the city, that’s not happening. Instead, we get the sense there is an untapped resource out there in terms of citizens who aren’t engaged or included in the discussion over civic issues.

There’s a lesson in all of this for people who think they want to make a difference in the community through the electoral process. Quite simply, it’s that citizens who don’t vote represent potential power. Finding a way to reach them could be the key to success at the polls.

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