Mashpee Officials Weigh How To Turn Around Low Voter Turnout
By: Geoff Spillane
The dismal 9 percent turnout of registered voters at the May 7 election has prompted Mashpee town officials to ponder the reasons for the lack of interest, as well as brainstorm potential solutions for increasing participation in future elections and Town Meetings.
Town Manager Joyce M. Mason was disappointed with the civic participation, especially among younger voters, and in the future hopes to utilize the town’s telephone alert system to remind residents of these events.
“We need to keep in mind that the telephone alert system is first and foremost for emergencies, and should be used correctly. However, getting people to vote and take part in Town Meeting is important,” said Ms. Mason.
Ms. Mason also plans on increasing advertising and signage around town during the weeks leading up to future elections and meetings.
This year’s 9 percent turnout is about on par with voter turnout during the past five years, with the exception of a spike in 2009 when 16 percent of registered voters went to the polls. In the 1990s, a quarter or a third of registered voters regularly turned out for local elections. In the decades prior, the figure was above 50 percent.
WHO VOTES IN MASHPEE?
An interactive map of all voters in the Mashpee 2011 town election
- Average age of voters in 2011 town election: 65
- Average age of all registered voters in Mashpee: 56
- Average age of all registered voters in precinct three: 48
- Average age of 2011 town election voter from precinct three: 66
- Percent turnout in precinct three: 5
- Oldest voter in town election: 96
- Youngest voter in town election: 19
- Percentage of 2011 voters listed as retired: 46
Information from voter list of May 2011 election provided by the town clerk’s office. Precinct three includes the area northeast of Route 130 around Santuit Pond.
Neighboring towns had more success in attracting voters to the polls this month. Turnout in Falmouth this week was 26.1 percent, Sandwich had 26 percent, while Bourne recorded 13.9 percent.
Deborah F. Dami, Mashpee town clerk and supervisor of elections, plans on meeting with the Mashpee Board of Selectmen in the near future to discuss the issue, but already has several ideas in mind.
“Ultimately, we may need to consider moving the election from Mother’s Day weekend,” said Ms. Dami, who also attributes the low turnout to May 7 being one of the first beautiful spring days, busy weekend schedules of residents who work during the week, and conflicting activities such as youth sports programs.
A “quick fix” mentioned by Ms. Dami involves moving election day to the third Tuesday in May, similar to Falmouth and other communities. Selectman Thomas F. O’Hara, who won election on May 7, also advocates the move to a Tuesday, suggesting that all Cape Cod towns coordinate to create a “Super Tuesday” regional election day.
“Tuesday seems to be a more popular day to vote. People are out-and-about and seem to be more inclined to vote on their way to or from work. Saturday is just not working,” said Mr. O’Hara.
To make election day and Town Meeting more family-friendly, Mr. O’Hara also suggests offering a babysitting service so that parents can participate in town government.
“It would be a great senior project for Mashpee High School students,” added Mr. O’Hara.
Another option that Ms. Dami said could be considered during the town’s charter review in 2013 would involve adopting a November election schedule similar to that of Barnstable.
In Barnstable, votes are cast in November during odd-numbered years for town offices, so as not to conflict with statewide elections which occur during November in even-numbered years.
“This type of election cycle would require some elected positions to be extended from a three-year to a four-year term,” added Ms. Dami.