Community Activist Sounds Off on Low Voter Turnout

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Throughout media coverage of Tuesday’s primary election, there was a lot of talk about the very low turnout for voters, especially in the city of Youngstown, despite a number of high profile races and issues.

On Wednesday, the Mahoning County Board of Elections released its unofficial totals, showing turnout in the city was just under 15 percent, with 14 precincts that saw less than 10 percent of eligible voters casting ballots.

In fact, the worst was Precinct F in the Second Ward on the city’s East Side, with less than 5.5 percent and just 19 votes cast. The lowest turnout for a particular ward was in the Sixth, with about 10.5  percent.

Of more than 44,000 eligible voters in the city, only 6,700 actually went to the polls.

Compare that to the Springfield Local Schools issue, which included voters in both Springfield Township and New Middletown. There are about 6,000 eligible voters in both communities and nearly 2,300 votes were cast for a turnout of almost 38 percent.

So what, if anything, can local leaders do to encourage better participation by voters in the future?

With just over 6,500 votes cast in the Youngstown mayor’s race, which is just 10 percent of the current city population, some believe voters have grown tired of what they see as “politics-as-usual,” where campaigns turn into little more than popularity contests.

Community activist Phil Kidd, founder of Defend Youngstown, thinks the overall system of local government needs to be changed.

“In this election, this primary, this voter turnout speaks to the fact that perhaps it’s becoming time to consider those types of options because we know what the status quo has been, what it is now,” Kidd said.

He said he would like to see Youngstown switch to a city manager form of government, where a professional would be hired to oversee day-to-day operations, not all that different from a superintendent hired to run a local school district.

“And thinking more of a professional approach and trying to err on less of a p0litical approach to this. And bringing in somebody who’s a qualified professional to be able to objectively look at the situation,” Kidd said.

Some speculate at least some potential voters were left thinking the Democratic nomination for mayor was locked up well before the polls closed. Political analyst Bill Binning said that assumption was a mistake because John McNally ended up winning the race with just 150 votes and at one point, Jamael Tito Brown was winning by 200 votes.

And while a controversial anti-fracking amendment for the City Charter failed to get enough votes to pass, .supporters of the so-called Community Bill of Rights are calling their efforts successful,  claiming they were able to generate a lot of discussion about the oil and gas industry and its effects on the environment. Still, organizers believe it’s difficult to reach every voter.

“You know, the complacency happens. For some people, twice a year is as much as they become engaged with their government. For many others, they’ve lost faith in the government and they’re just trying to survive,” said Susie Beiersdorfer of Frack Free Mahoning Valley.

Beiersdorfer won the Green Party nomination to run for Youngstown City Council President in the fall. She said supporters of the anti-fracking amendment will try to bring the issue up again in the future and will continue working to spread their message in the community.

“You know, we continue to educate and advocate and wake people up. Hopefully it won’t be in the way of an earthquake or a spill or anything like that,” she said.

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