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Emmitsburg's five-year voting record ‘lackluster’

Richard Fulton

(7/16) Voter turnout of Emmitsburg residents during the past five years has ranged from a high of 26 percent of 1,500 registered voters in 2011, to a rather dismal low of less than four percent of 1,657 registered voters in the following year.

The high (26 percent) and low (less than four percent) voter turnouts were associated with two significant events as they relate to local elections, which could explain those two voter turnouts.

The 2011 election saw mayoral challenger Donald Briggs vying against incumbent Mayor Jim Hoover, while the 2012 election, with the lowest voter turnout, saw two incumbent board of commissioners run for re-election without any opposition.

During the five-year period from 2009 to 2013, the 2011 mayoral contest was the only election in which the percentage of voter participation rose above the teens. In two of the five elections, the percentage of voter turnout did not even make it into the teens.

The following is a synopsis of town elections from 2009 to 2013:

2009: In the 2009 election, four candidates vied for two available seats on the board of commissioners. Incumbent Commissioner Clifford Sweeney and challenger Tim O’Donnell defeated incumbent Commissioner Joyce Rosensteel and challenger Carolyn Miller.

Thirteen percent of the 1,680 registered voters cast ballots.

2010: The 2010 election again saw an array of candidates vying for two seats on the board of commissioners. Incumbent Commissioner Glenn Blanchard and challenger Patrick Joy defeated incumbent Commissioner Denise Etris and challenger and former Commissioner Joyce Rosensteel.

Sixteen percent of the 1,676 registered voters cast ballots.

2011: The only contested seat in the 2011 election was for mayor, which pitted incumbent Mayor Jim Hoover against challenger Don Briggs. Briggs secured a win over Hoover with a vote of 209 against 176 votes cast for Hoover. Incumbent Commission (and board president) Staiger was reelected without opposition.

Twenty-six percent of the 1,500 registered voters cast ballots.

2012: Two incumbent board of commissioners members were reelected without challenge in an uncontested election. Commissioners Tim O’Donnell and Clifford Sweeney maintained their seats on the board with only 65 votes cast. O’Donnell received 59 votes. Sweeney received 55 votes.

Only 3.86 percent of the 1,657 registered voters cast ballots.

2013: Four candidates, of which one was an incumbent, vied in 2013 for two seats on the board of commissioners. Incumbent Commissioner Patrick Joy and former Commissioner Joyce Rosensteel were defeated by former Commissioner Glenn Blanchard and candidate Jennifer Mellor.

Ten percent of the 1,657 registered voters cast ballots.

Zoltan Hajnal and Paul Lewis (Municipal Institutions and Voter Turnout in Local Elections, 2003) suggested several reasons for diminishing voter turnout for local elections, one of which is when local election are not be held in conjunction with state and federal elections.

"Other institutional changes that tend to raise the stakes of local elections also increase turnout," Hajnal and Lewis stated. "Specifically, less outsourcing of city services, the use of direct democracy, and more control in the hands of elected rather than appointed officials all tend to increase turnout."

Whatever the particulars of the cause, Hajnal and Lewis stated their concerns over diminishing turnout at local elections, "The right to vote is one of the most fundamental and cherished aspects of democracy…Given that most of the elected officials in the nation are elected locally and that many of the most important public policies are implemented at the local level, this lack of participation raises serious concerns."

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