Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje said the fact that this year”s municipal elections were held during a time of national crisis when many voters have been distracted by other events around the globe was one of the primary reasons for low voter turnout.
“The public has had so many distractions for so many reasons that they didn”t focus on this election until the last week or two,” Hieftje said.
In addition, Hieftje said, the fact that only three of the five races were contested may also have depressed turnout.
But interim City Clerk Yvonne Carl said that turnout in off-year elections is traditionally low when compared to even-numbered years when voters also choose Michigan”s governor or the president of the United States.
“People are just not that interested in getting out to vote in off-year elections,” Carl said, adding that local turnout in off-year elections has never reached 30 percent.
For the 4th Ward”s polling place located in the South Quad Residence Hall, only 20 voters showed up to vote Tuesday out of the 1,200 residents living in the ward. This is only 1.67 percent of the residents.
In the 2nd Ward race, Democratic Councilwoman Joan Lowenstein, who lost to Republican challenger Michael Reid by only 44 votes of the 2,919 ballots cast, suggested she might have done better with a higher turnout.
“In the even year elections, when there is a higher turnout, it tends to be better for the Democrats,” she said.
Hieftje also said low turnout was in part due to the fact that there are no Ann Arbor-based television stations that can draw attention to the races and that other local media do not cover the council sufficiently.
Voting in municipal elections, Hieftje added, is more important than many residents consider it.
“What happens in the local government arena quite often affects people more than what happens in Lansing and Washington,” he said.
LSA junior Chris Miller, chair of the Michigan Student Assembly”s Voice Your Vote Commission, agreed, stressing the difficulty in increasing voter turnout in elections such as those held this year. Miller cited the city”s new parking plan approved by the council as an issue that should have brought more students out to the polls.
Engineering freshman Michael DePalma said although he was not very interested in the local races, there was not enough information provided to inform him of how to vote even if he had been interested.
“I didn”t really hear anything about it,” he said.
Business School graduate student Christopher Donahue, did not vote even though he is registered in Ann Arbor.
“I wasn”t even paying attention. I pretty much just registered for the national stuff,” Donahue said.