Chris Donahue posted the link to the editor of the Hour, but here’s Stuart Wells’ letter in its entirety. I hate when analysis is only presented as percentages, let’s see the raw the data. Why is this important? Well what’s more voters A) 20% of 6000, B) 40% of 3000 or C) 30% of 4000? The answer is 1200 for each. Kinda tells a different story doesn’t it.
By Stuart W. Wells III, Democratic Registrar of Voters
The first statistic about the recent election should be obvious from the results; Republicans did a better job of voting than Democrats.
Typically about 40 percent of the members of the major parties vote in Mayoral elections while around 20 percent of the unaffiliated voters do so. This year the Republicans turned out 41.9 percent of their voters, the Democrats managed 34.3 percent while 22.8 percent of the others (unafilliated, independent, etc.) voted, for an overall turnout of 30.66 percent.
The turnout by ward is given below:
Ward Democrats Republicans Others
A 30.1 percent 39.3 percent 20.4 percent
B 25.5 percent 23.1 percent 11.9 percent
C 37.9 percent 47.0 percent 28.0 percent
D 37.8 percent 40.0 percent 24.3 percent
E 39.2 percent 47.0 percent 25.5 percent
Men and women voted at about the same rate: Men 31.63 percent; Women 29.88 percent
The greatest differences between groups are in two categories – age and length of residency. Of those who are new to Norwalk, i.e. registered for the first time in the two years since the last mayoral election in 2007, only 9.17 percent voted, while those registering in the three years between 2005 and 2007 voted 18.51 percent and longer term residents voted 37.27 percent.
The age distribution of voting was:
Teens 10.6 percent
Twenties 8.8 percent
Thirties 13.7 percent
Forties 29.3 percent
Fifties 37.9 percent
Sixties 43.9 percent
Seventies 55.4 percent
Eighties 49.2 percent
Nineties 25.0 percent
Why do so few typically vote in elections for mayor? Surely one factor is money. In a presidential election, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on the campaigns, and they are featured on television news and in the newspapers every day for over a year. In addition, millions are raised, and spent, for the local congressional election. Plus candidates for state senator and for state representative spent, collectively, $250,000 on their campaigns. This year, we have a race for congress and for U.S. Senate where millions will be spent, plus races for governor and the other constitutional offices where more millions will be spent and the local candidates for state senator and state representative will again spend $250,000. Even more will be spent if, as seems likely, one or both parties have primaries for several of these major offices.
In contrast, in the recent election, the candidates for mayor, town clerk, common council and board of education spent about $100,000 in total. That’s less than $10 per person who actually voted. The New York Times reported that Mayor Bloomberg spent over $100 million on his campaign, or $183 per vote he received. Here in Norwalk, Rowayton had the highest voter turnout of any precinct. They should be congratulated on their civic-mindedness, but this was somewhat aided by what seems to have been, by all accounts, a bitter fight for local taxing district commissioner on which the candidates spent over $5,000 according to their financial reports. It’s not just money for mailings and newspaper advertisements that matters either. In the past people had phone numbers listed in the white pages. Today, everybody has a cel phone and an email address, but neither one is easily available. You can hardly blame them, what with all the unwanted telemarketing calls and junk email they (and I) receive and the risks of identity theft. However, it takes more money now to reach voters than it ever did.
Absent millionaire candidates, Norwalk will never be able to spend the kind of money it takes to generate substantial turnout in a local election. Clearly, though, we must to a better job of engaging our new, young voters in the electoral process.
One way would be to pay more attention to voter registration and elections in our high schools. High school students may register to vote when they turn 17, though they can’t vote until they are 18. We, as a society, need to do a better job of introducing our young adults to the process of registering to vote, learning about the community in which they live, and voting.
There is another factor to consider as well, and that is the number of local races for what are, essentially, no-show positions. The City Treasurer, Sheriff and Selectmen have no actual duties, and therefore do not have actual campaigns. We elect seven constables out of the eight who run. Constable are allowed to serve legal papers, and can make money doing so, but there is no good reason that they couldn’t be appointed by the mayor and common council, with, say, the mayor’s party getting four and the other party getting three. Fewer races would make the voting process less cumbersome and confusing. Furthermore, it could allow a single-sided ballot, which would save printing costs. During the recanvass (recount) conducted on the Saturday immediately after the election, each ballot was examined to see if the ovals were filled in properly so that the tabulator could read the ballot. You would be surprised at the number of people who did not turn their ballot over and vote both sides. Or maybe you wouldn’t be.
A lesser, but still significant problem is the change in voting location every year between local and state/federal elections. This affects 37.5 percent of Norwalk’s voters and only 29.3 percent of them voted in 2009 while 31.5 percent of those who do not change location went to the polls. Not a huge difference, but statistically important. We could do something about this problem, and the many calls we receive on election day asking
“Where do I vote,” if two or more different districts could vote in the same location. Most voters could then go to the same location every year, and simply go through the checker line for their voting district and get the appropriate ballot. The tabulators can be programmed to accept ballots from more than one district, so they would not present a problem, and few, if any, additional poll workers would be needed. However, state law, written in the days of the old lever machines, currently prohibits this solution.