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Voter turnout shows disinterest

Democracy in the Mahoning Valley didn’t die during the primary election, but it sustained a nasty wound.

Election officials in Mahoning and Trumbull counties predicted typically poor turnout for an odd-numbered primary. That was expected for a few reasons.

First, among the candidates, there were only contested Democratic primaries so there was no reason for Republicans to vote, though there are very few registered in Youngstown, Warren, Girard, Struthers and Niles — where primaries were held.

Second, there were very few tax levies on the ballot, and you have to question why some school districts put them in front of voters who aren’t used to going to the polls in May.

I’m looking at the Liberty school district, which got its 2.5-mill additional levy rejected by the few voters who came out, and Sebring schools, which is ahead by only three votes with three provisional ballots to count, for a 1-percent income tax renewal.

But the biggest reason for low turnout is many people simply don’t care about local government elections.

There can be no better explanation for Tuesday’s pathetic turnout.

Stephanie Penrose, director of the Trumbull County Board of Elections, had initially projected turnout before early voting at 15 to 16 percent. She then changed it 13 to 15 percent.

It ended up being 8.8 percent — the lowest turnout for a primary in the county in more than a decade.

That’s compared to 16.7 percent in 2015, 15.9 percent in 2017 and 14.7 percent in 2019.

Those were low bars to overcome, but Tuesday barely exceeded 50 percent of the turnout in the previous three odd-numbered primary elections.

Thomas McCabe, Mahoning County Board of Elections deputy director, first predicted turnout at 20 percent before the start of early voting. A few days before the election, he lowered it to 13 to 15 percent.

He nailed it as turnout was 13.8 percent.

But it shouldn’t be a source of pride for Mahoning County voters who were eligible to cast ballots Tuesday.

Turnout in previous odd-numbered primaries were 18.4 percent in 2015, 19.3 percent in 2017 and 10.7 percent in 2019.

That 2019 election comes with a huge caveat with county commissioners putting a sales tax on the ballot forcing the entire county to be eligible to vote when a large number of them don’t normally vote in odd-numbered primaries. Back then, commissioners successfully slipped the tax past voters without a campaign in support of it. It was also a failure on the part of voters to at least know this game was being played and to vote.

Of course turnout wasn’t only low in Mahoning and Trumbull counties. Turnout for Summit County was 7 percent. It was 10.5 percent in Stark County and 11.5 percent in Portage County.

Some of Tuesday’s vote total numbers here were disturbingly low.

The Democratic primary for Youngstown mayor attracted 5,612 total voters. Four years earlier, the primary had 8,298 voters.

The Youngstown council president’s Democratic primary was bizarre and unique in that all three candidates ran as write-in candidates. That likely played a role in only 2,531 votes for the three candidates combined with another 205 votes “not assigned” as people wrote in various other names for the seat. But 8,147 people voted for council president in the 2017 Democratic primary.

The lack of interest we’ve seen over the years for local elections that impact our lives far more than who serves as president can leave us with inept, inexperienced and clueless officials making major decisions. Some would say we get that on the national level with much higher level of interest.

I don’t have high hopes for turnout in the November general election. It’s often about twice the number for the primary. This year in particular, that’s not saying too much.

Skolnick covers politics for The Vindicator.

dskolnick@vindy.com

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