BLOOMINGTON — Despite contested races for mayor and city councils in the Twin Cities and a number of other races in towns throughout McLean County, voter turnout was anemic on Tuesday, spurring at least one election official to consider finding efficiencies.
Only about 20 percent of registered voters cast ballots in McLean County (which includes the town of Normal). It was so quiet, said County Clerk Kathy Michael, that her office hardly received any phone calls for help with the usual questions of registration or polling machine difficulties.
“I thought it might have even been lower than that, just for the lack of phone calls,” Michael said Wednesday. “It was dead. I even had (staff members) check to see if the phones were working.”
Michael said the low turnout has convinced her to approach the McLean County Board to consolidate polling places and hire fewer judges for local elections. For example, the polling place at Illinois State University may have had 3,000 voters during the 2012 presidential election in November, but Michael said the six election judges helped just four voters in Tuesday’s local election that included contested races for Normal mayor, city council and library board.
“Overall, it’s dismal,” Michael said. “I think we have to start thinking of saving money for the taxpayers and looking into vote centers.”
Paul Shannon, executive director of the Bloomington Board of Elections, reported 21 percent turnout in the city that also had contested races for mayor and city council and a referendum on electric aggregation.
Shannon and Michael said most people’s individual tax burden is much more dependent on who is in local offices like city council and school board, but registered voters just don’t seem interested in going to the polls.
“(A local election) doesn’t seem to have the same effect as the prestige of running in bigger races (like governor or president),” Shannon said.
Turnout was similarly low in nearby counties, with Livingston County being something of an exception with a 35 percent turnout. County Clerk Kristy Masching said the county’s 1 percent sales tax question and a number of contested mayoral and township races sparked turnout as high as 75 percent in some precincts.
DeWitt County Clerk Dana Smith said turnout there ended up at almost 20 percent.
“I think a lot of people just felt that there weren’t contested races,” Smith said. “There weren’t a lot of contested races, and in the areas where there were, there was a higher vote count.”