Downward spiral in voter participation in city elections

Nov. 9—ANDERSON — The trend in Anderson city elections for the past four election cycles has been a steady decline in voter turnout.

Last Tuesday only 23% of the registered voters in Madison County cast ballots despite the fact that there were early voting opportunities throughout the county.

A total of 8,370 ballots were cast in the mayor's race.

Four years ago the turnout was 28% in the county and a total of 10,438 ballots were cast in the race between Democrat Thomas Broderick Jr. and Republican Rick Gardner.

That was a decline of almost 2,000 ballots cast in the 2015 race between Broderick and incumbent Republican Kevin Smith. Turnout county wide was 29.1%.

During the 2011 campaign between Smith and Democrat incumbent Kris Ockomon and Libertarian Rob Jozwiak turnout was 32% and there were 13,503 ballots cast.

Last Tuesday Broderick, who won election to a third term by 198 votes over Republican Jon Bell, said he had anticipated 11,000 votes being cast.

"People are leery of the negative atmosphere of politics," Terri Austin, chairperson of the Madison County Democratic Party, said. "A lot of that has taken place on social media. That discourages people from voting."

She said there is a mix of reasons why people are failing to vote, including some apathy.

"Young people feel they don't know enough to vote," Austin said. "We have to educate voters. It's not just a civic responsibility; elections have consequences."

Russ Willis, chairman of the Madison County Republican Party, agreed that there has to be more voter education.

"There is a combination of reasons," he said. "There is frustration with what they see in Washington.

"There is growing apathy that their votes don't county," Willis said. "There is a disconnection."

He said the education has to show people why their votes are important.

"Social media has some impact," Willis said. "Most people realize the level of truth is not high on social media."

The number of straight party ballots cast in Madison County showed Democratic candidates had the support of 50.5% with GOP candidates garnering 49%.

In the Anderson City Council at-large race the results showed that up to 1,157 eligible voters didn't cast a ballot in the race.

A change in state law requires voters casting a straight party ballot to vote separately in the at-large races.

For the first time since 1979 the three Republican Party candidates swept the at-large seats by margins ranging from 200 to 700 votes.

Follow Ken de la Bastide on Twitter @KendelaBastide, or call 765-640-4863.