In Nashua, sunshine could combat expected low voter turnout
NASHUA – You can’t give away merchandise at an election polling place, so the only enticement for people to vote is civic duty.
Unfortunately, city officials aren’t expecting a groundswell of civic pride Tuesday. They do expect low voter turnout – around 20 percent – caused in large part by several uncontested races, including the one at the top of the ticket.
Nothing gets this city more excited, politically speaking, than a mayoral race with two candidates sparring for the popular vote.
But this year, incumbent Mayor Donnalee Lozeau runs alone. She seeks a second term without the friction of a campaign, and her shoo-in status thus does little to energize voters.
A lack of competition extends to other races on the ballot: Three incumbent ward aldermen run unopposed, as do five Board of Education candidates and three incumbent members of the Board of Fire Commissioners.
Still, the city might have one drawing card to motivate some voters: sunshine.
“On the plus side, the National Weather Service forecast for Tuesday is mostly sunny, with a high of 64,” City Clerk Paul Bergeron said last week. “That’s conducive to good voter turnout.”
Bergeron is optimistic that 20 percent of registered voters will cast a ballot this election. That amounts to about 8,800 out of 44,042 voters exercising their franchises, as the old expression goes.
The ballot isn’t completely barren of excitement.
Six residents are competing for three alderman-at-large seats, and they all have experience: incumbents Ben Clemons, Brian McCarthy and Lori Wilshire, former Mayor and Alderman-at-Large Jim Donchess, former Ward 3 Alderman Daniel Richardson and former Alderman-at-Large Fred Teeboom.
And six of the city’s nine wards have contested races, not to mention three candidates seek two soon-to-open Board of Public Works seats.
The last election, in 2009, had no mayoral race, and it had one of the lowest turnouts in 20 years, Bergeron said. That year, 6,961 out of 51,540 registered voters went to the polls, he said.
Comparing this election to the last isn’t advisable for several reasons, especially because the city clerk’s office purged the voter rolls this spring and a comparison would be skewed, Bergeron said.
After sending out forms to residents who hadn’t voted in five years, about 7,500 people who didn’t respond were knocked off the checklist, he said. Only about 40 people replied that they wanted to vote in the future, he said.
Unlike forecasts of sunshine and mild temperatures, a more reliable measure to predict voter turnout is absentee ballots.
Bergeron said the 198 absentee ballots cast in the 2009 election represented 2.8 percent of the total votes cast.
As of late Thursday, about 120 absentee ballots had been returned, portending for a lower absentee voter total come Tuesday than the 2009 total, Bergeron said.
“Maybe we’ll hit 150 to 175 by Tuesday, but right now, we’re tracking at below” the average percentage of absentee ballots, 3 percent, in a total vote count, he said.
The at-large and ward aldermen races and the public works contest should generate excitement, Bergeron said.
“But there’s not a lot of activity in a lot of the slots,” he said.
Nashua holds its elections in odd-numbered years, meaning the city’s ballot can’t piggyback on more popular state and federal elections.
That fact alone will keep the city’s turnout low, but when adding an uncontested mayoral race, turnout will suffer, said Dean Spiliotes, a political science professor at Southern New Hampshire University.
Only those with a vested interest in the election – the civic minded and union members – will vote, he said.
For a full look at Tuesday’s ballot, including the candidates’ biographical information and their stances on issues, visit www.nashuatelegraph.com/electionsnashua2011.
Albert McKeon can be reached at 594-6528 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, follow McKeon on Twitter (@Telegraph_AMcK).