Local voters need to be more active

It wasn’t a good year for our local elections.

It should have been a hint back in April when we saw Weirton’s primary results. Some residents claimed they weren’t aware there was an election, despite the various bits of news coverage and campaign signs sprouting up throughout town.

So, what was the explanation for the low turnout on the June 11 general election in the city? This was the big decision time for the city, with voters asked to decide not only the city’s mayor and seven council representatives, but also the fate of 11 amendments to the city charter.

According to the certified results, a total of 1,763 votes were cast. That’s only around 200 more votes than the primary election.

Now, I don’t know exactly how many registered voters currently live in the city, but since there are somewhere around 19,000 residents, if even half of them are eligible to vote that’s still a low number of voters who decided to participate in their general election.

It wasn’t just in Weirton, either.

Wellsburg’s election on the same day saw only 48 voters cast their ballots. Follansbee had 234 residents make their choice. Bethany saw 106 votes submitted.

Now, I realize those communities are all smaller than Weirton, so it’s a relative comparison, but I don’t recall ever seeing such low numbers for any of them, either.

So, what is the reasoning?

If you look at some of Weirton’s vote breakdowns, you may notice the largest concentration of votes was from the city’s Fifth Ward, which represents the Marland Heights area of the city. That ward had five candidates in the primary, and two in the general. Both candidates would be new to council, no matter who was elected.

That ward had around 500 total votes. Other wards, though, had fewer than 300 voters each. Ward 1 had around 270, Ward 2 had just a bit over 200, Ward 3 was 135, Ward 4 had just 84 votes, Ward 6 saw 183 voters and Ward 7 had just over 270.

One would have to wonder what the reason for the low turnout was.

Is it that people forgot, or didn’t know about it? That’s always possible, but I would hope it wasn’t the case.

People seem to be interested in the political process, at least if you look online at the various bits of commentary about particular issues. I would hope that would also include local government. The decisions of your local city or town council tend to have a more immediate effect on our lives, after all.

Probably the better explanation was that with so few candidates, many voters just didn’t care.

If people feel they don’t have a choice in who represents them, they may not see the point in taking the time to participate in the election process.

Weirton had three council races unopposed. One other race was a repeat of the city’s 2014 election.

Bethany had two candidates for mayor, six individuals seeking five council-at-large seats and an uncontested city recorder election.

In Follansbee, out of nine races on the ballot, only one — a council seat — had more than one candidate.

Wellsburg also had only one contested council election, with the winner receiving only 13 votes. Four other council seats were unopposed.

So, does a lack of choice, or what people feel are quality candidates, keep them from showing up on election day?

One of the charter amendments in Weirton changes the schedule for elections, eliminating the city’s primary and aligning the general election with the presidential elections in November.

It also gives the incoming group of city officials a term in office until the end of 2024 to assist with the realignment.

Officials say they think that will encourage voter turnout as they feel more people will take part locally in a presidential election.

It’s also a cost saving, they say, something other cities addressed by eliminating their primary under certain conditions but keeping the same schedule.

So, what is the real answer?

(Howell, a resident of Colliers, is managing editor of The Weirton Daily Times, and can be contacted at chowell@weirtondailytimes.com or followed on Twitter @CHowellWDT)