Thursday, November 08, 2007

How low can voter turnout go?

On Tuesday I wrote of the reality that increased voter registration numbers are not necessarily going to equate to massive increased voter turnout in Knox County in the future. I pointed out that it is reasonable to assume that a good percentage of these new registrants live in the City of Knoxville, and if new voter registration is going to really increase overall voter turnout there would be evidence of that in Knoxville municipal elections.

The evidence doesn't support that conclusion at all:

A third, unofficial challenger for both Bailey and Abbas proved to be voter disinterest, as only 5,538 city voters participated in the race, according to unofficial election returns.

Among its voter registration rolls, the Knox County Election Commission estimates there normally are some 86,000 active city voters.

"When you get into the low voter turnout, it's real nitty-gritty," Bailey said. "It all boiled down to friends and family members and people I've worked with on City Council. I'm just real appreciative."

I don't doubt that Joe Bailey earned every bit of his re-election, but when voter turnout is that low in a setting like Knoxville it makes even the best candidates question the legitimacy of their mandate, and there seems to be a hint of that in Joe Bailey's statement from the other night.

The fact is that pundits and political scientists at the hyper-local level can talk about increased voter registration in Knox County all they want, but it simply doesn't equate to massive turnout numbers. There will be some increase in voter interest in the Primaries and the General Election next year, but that is typical behavior in a presidential election cycle. It will be very hard to make the case that next year's increased turnout is going to be related to the races for Knox County Commission when there are candidates for President on the ballot.

The real test of whether these increased voter registration numbers in Knox County will lead to a real and substantial increase in voter turnout will be the Elections of 2010. It will be in that year that all of the Knox County Commissioners come up for election during a normal cycle, and if the actual number of people who vote in County Commission races has substantially increased from 2006, then we can honestly say that the increase in voter registration in Knox County equates to big turnout at the polls.

I hate to crash this celebration of the process, but I have yet to be convinced of its authenticity.



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