Voter turnout is almost certain to be lost in the celebratory mood following last night’s electoral outcome. It shouldn’t be. Voter participation dropped by more than 40 percent last night, returning Morgantown to its recently pathetic historical averages.
In 2011, more than 3600 citizens voted in City Council elections. In 2013, roughly 2000 did. If you’re wondering if that decrease is bad, the answer is yes, it is bad. Here are the numbers as reported last night: Nancy Ganz-Linda Herbst produced 1924 total votes, Mike Fike-Jay Redmond produced 1942 votes, Marti Shamberger-Mark Furfari produced 1938 votes, Jenny Selin-Bill Graham produced 1917 votes, Bill Kawecki-Jim Manilla produced 1978 votes. I don’t have numbers for the two uncontested elections involving Wesley Nugent and Ron Bane. Clearly, those numbers seem to show roughly 2000 people voted.
In fact, turnout was so bad that Jim Manilla (our now defeated mayor) bemoaned it to WAJR.
“The very, very low number of voter turn out.” contributed to his defeat says Jim Manilla. ”We expected a lot more, we were hoping that people really followed the issues.”
Let’s ignore the fact that Manilla decided to imply that Morgantown’s voters were a bunch of deadbeats. That puts the sour into sour grapes and nothing more about it needs to be said. Let’s focus instead upon Manilla’s apparent amazement that voter turnout was low. Because the question ought to be: isn’t that precisely what Manilla wanted?
Manilla spearheaded the opposition to the city’s wildly successful Vote By Mail pilot project. Despite it delivering him a victory in 2011, Manilla joined Wesley Nugent, Linda Herbst, and Ron Bane in abandoning Vote By Mail in 2013. Those four were repeatedly warned that voter participation would drop as a result of their decision, and those four went ahead with Vote By Mail’s cancelation anyway. They even promised the city that those of us advocating for Vote By Mail didn’t know what we were talking about; they insisted that competitive elections would turn out the voters in record numbers.
They were entirely wrong. In fact, exactly the opposite occurred. Not only did record numbers not materialize, but voter participation collapsed. This was what some of Manilla’s backers wanted. Various speakers at City Council meetings repeatedly argued that voter participation didn’t matter at all. “If citizens don’t want to vote, that’s their problem, and it makes no sense for us to encourage more participation…” is how the line generally went. Needless to say, all of Vote By Mail’s opponents got precisely what they wanted, and then, when it came time for an election, they ended up getting the opposite of what they wanted.
It’s funny how that worked out.
Of course, getting voters to the polls remains a problem. A city getting barely more than ten percent of its voters to the polls is a city struggling to get political buy-in from its citizenry. 2011’s voter turnout was only fantastic because it was so much better than what had happened in previous (and now subsequent) years.
It should be acknowledged that we’re almost certainly not going back to Vote By Mail. And Morgantown Together, despite working its ass off, turned out enough voters to win in an election in which voter participation caved. What’s sad here is that we had the solution in our hands and four reactionary councilors punted it away, not because of any sort of good reason, but just because it wasn’t something that they were familiar with. Our city’s politics suffer as a result.