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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Near-historic low voter turnout in Nashua’s election

NASHUA – When City Clerk Paul Bergeron visits classrooms to tell children about his job, he displays a century-old voter checklist.

The document, from 1912, lists the names of thousands of residents who rarely missed the opportunity to cast ballots.

The young girls in these classes invariably ask why the checklist doesn’t include the names of women. Bergeron will explain that not until 1920 did women secure the Constitutional right to vote.

“It makes an impression about how precious the right to vote is,” he said Wednesday, a day after the city’s most recent election.

If only Bergeron could bring his show-and-tell routine to the living rooms of 83 percent of the city’s registered voters.

That 83 percent did not cast a ballot Tuesday, causing the fourth-lowest recorded Election Day turnout since 1937. Only 7,613 ballots were cast out of 44,042 registered voters, a 17-percent turnout.

The lowest election turnout in recent history was 6,755 in 1985, followed by 6,961 in 2009 and 7,180 in 1973, according to Bergeron.

“Unfortunately, there’s an apathy that’s hard to define, explain or overcome,” Bergeron said. “It’s been going on for some time now. And it happened statewide. It’s unfortunate.”

Last Thursday, Bergeron made an “optimistic” prediction that Election Day would have a 20-percent voter turnout. He had hoped that mild, sunny weather would prompt those on the fence to visit their ward polling places.

But shortly after 8 p.m., it became clear turnout would not hit Bergeron’s target. The surest sign was how quickly results came into his City Hall office. The final tally from Ward 4 reached the City Clerk’s office shortly before 8:20 p.m.

Only one precinct – Ward 1 – cracked the 1,000 voter mark, with 1,135 ballots cast.

The city’s other eight wards each saw fewer than 1,000 voters, with Ward 4 attracting only 394 voters – the least busiest ward by a 343 ballot margin. Ward 4 has 3,535 registered voters, meaning it had an 11 percent turnout Tuesday.

Bergeron and city officials fault the lack of contested races for voter apathy. Thirty-nine of the 61 candidates on the ballot ran without opposition.

This shortage of competition included the top spot on the ballot – Mayor Donnalee Lozeau ran unopposed and won a second term with about 79 percent of the vote – and a five-candidates for five-seats Board of Education race. Also, three ward races had incumbents running by themselves.

Still, despite poor voter turnout, the night had some drama.

For the second election in a row, Ward 5 Alderman Michael Tabacsko nudged out a victory over Michael Gallagher. Tabacsko won Tuesday by two votes, 460-458.

Gallagher has asked for a recount, the second straight election he has done so. In 2009, Tabacsko defeated Gallagher by eight votes, but a recount shaved one vote off his winning tally, to make it a 424-417 contest.

Candidates have to request a recount 48 hours prior to the date when aldermen accept or “canvass” election results. At their meeting scheduled for Wednesday night, it was expected that aldermen would set a date for when they will accept the results.

Once aldermen accept election results, they will then schedule a date for the recount. At the recount, election officials will study each ballot and determine the voter’s intent. The candidates can accept or challenge those determinations. All challenged ballots then will face a final decision by aldermen.

Tabacsko said he is confident the recount will uphold Tuesday’s outcome. Gallagher said he doesn’t expect the recount to change the tally, but the close margin called for a recount just in case.

Tabacsko and Gallagher offered their take on how they managed to have close races in two consecutive elections.

“I worked hard … Mike Gallagher worked hard,” Tabacsko said. “His people have motivation, and dissent is their motivation. And my supporters are content. Unfortunately, content people don’t have the motivation” to go to the polls as much as those who are dissenting, he said.

Tabacsko added that the majority viewpoint that there is no controversy means “things are going well.”

Gallagher, who serves on the city Conservation Commission, offered: “Ultimately, we’re a ward divided: 50 percent are looking for more and 50 percent are complacent about where we are.”

Discussing the recount, Gallagher said, “The realist in me doesn’t expect a change. The electric ballot equipment was spot on in 2009. I don’t take it personally … but the residents of Ward 5 would have benefitted from me.”

The ward aldermen race had one other close contest. In Ward 7, June Caron beat Michelle Spears by 10 votes.

The Telegraph sent Spears an e-mail asking if she will request a recount. Spears responded she will let the newspaper know if she files the paperwork.

Albert McKeon can be reached at 594-6528 or Also check out McKeon (@Telegraph_AMcK) on Twitter.