Officials Concerned with Low Voter Turnout
WETHERSFIELD - In a Wethersfield election that saw town Democrats take the Town Council majority, some officials have expressed concern over the 29 percent voter turnout.
“I think the voter turnout is abysmal,” said Councilor Gerri Roberts. “Either voters are apathetic, or assume you’re [the incumbents] going to win.”
Newly-elected Mayor Paul Montinieri is so concerned about the numbers, that he is planning to form a task force of six to eight people to look into what may have steered would-be voters away from the polls this cycle.
“It’s not only disappointing, it’s concerning,” Montineri said. “It’s hard to say with confidence that you have what the people wanted.”
Roberts attributes the low numbers to what she sees to be a perceived lack of interest in local politics.
“I don’t think the problem is Wethersfield, I think it’s the societal feeling that voting is not of importance in local elections,” she said. “People only vote in presidential elections, but don’t realize local politics affect them more than national.”
Montinieri, on the other hand, suspects that it is the state of Washington D.C.’s party-driven political atmosphere, with the latest federal government shutdown still fresh in the minds of voters, that might have a direct impact on people’s participation in elections at the local level.
“It might be with the national scene--people being disillusioned,” he said. “I think it does trickle down. People are tired of it. They’d rather sit out, so I think that’s a factor.”
And their cynicism is not without merit, Montinieri added.
“I think there’s a huge disconnect,” he said. “I think [voters] think there’s such a huge gap between politics and the will of the American people.”
In Wethersfield, at least, officials can do better than their counterparts at the national level, Montinieri said.
“I think if our community saw politicians working together, they’d be more satisfied,” Montinieri said. “That, I think, is the key.”
While the turnout reflects the trend of recent years, Wethersfield used to have a much more robust turnout, according to officials. In the early 2000’s, for example, 40-43 percent of the town’s voting age population participated in the elections.
“That’s very good,” Montinieri said of those years. “If you’re approaching 50 percent, that’s unheard of. That’s solid.”
Republican Councilor Stathis Manousos did not seem too concerned about the voter turnout, noting that it has been low in the past two election cycles at 32 percent.
“Our take on that is it hasn’t been too much different than in the past two election cycles,” Manousos said. “I think it’s because people are generally satisfied with what we’ve done.”
He added, “Generally, unless there’s an issue, you’ll see lower turnout, so that might be a problem on [the Democratic candidates’] part.”
It may be, but it translated to them winning the Council majority, a result that some Republicans have attributed to former deputy mayor John Console’s running as a petitioning candidate. Regardless, Montinieri plans to find out for sure, and plans to reach out to residents in order to do that.
“I want to hear from the public why they’re not voting,” he said.
Wethersfield resident George Ruhe echoed Montinieri’s suggestion that voters might be disillusioned.
“A lot of people say, what’s the point? They’re not going do anything anyway,” Ruhe said. “So there’s a lot of frustration.”