This year's Bucks County municipal general election, scheduled to be held on Tuesday, November 5th, is in danger of being remembered for having a record low of voter participation. What is to account for voter apathy? A combination of factors, led by a lack of high profile races and political fatigue.
The statewide ballot is dominated by judicial retention questions and a competitive race for Superior Court judge, hardly contests that draws out the masses. For Bucks County, the District Attorney leads the ballot, but incumbent DA David Heckler is running unopposed. A host of other county row offices are contested; Sheriff, Prothonatary, Recorder of Deeds and County Controller. Important positions to be sure, but again, not particularly high profile.
The lack of high profile races this year can be interpreted as one of the root causes for record low turnout in May's primary, when only 11.26% of registered voters participated. Historically, the typical turnout for a general municipal election is between 25% and 30%. At this point it is fair to ask, will this November's number even reach 25%?
The answer may lie within the second factor I mentioned: voter fatigue. Coming off a bruising Presidential election in 2012 and faced with the prospect of a bruising battle for the governor’s mansion extremely high profile congressional race for Pennsylvania's 8th district in 2014, who can blame voters from wanting to take a little break from the political arena?
For the sake of comparison, I took the turnout numbers for 2009, which is similar to this year's ballot as they were no high profile state races. The primary turnout was marginally better at 12.79% and the general election finished at 25.69%, slightly more than doubling the primary turnout. If 2013 mimics 2009, we can expect a turnout of 22.7% for November 5th, which would be another record low.
Is there anything that can prevent this from happening? There is still time for intervening events that could awaken voters. Nationally, the debates over government funding, Obamacare and the debt ceiling continue to rage. Will the government shutdown mobilize voters? The conventional wisdom is that voters rarely use local races to send messages to national leaders, but it could lead to increased voter engagement. In a low turnout election, even a small increase in either party's voter mobilization can mean the difference between winning and losing. However, with a little more than a month to go, time is quickly running out.