Judging by some statistics, many voters apparently consider going to the polls for local elections more of a chore than a cherished civic duty.
For example, while 49.6 percent of Laurel Hill’s 350 registered voters cast ballots in Tuesday’s city election, only 17.2 percent of voters in Fort Walton Beach bothered to take part in their election the same day.
The totals were even lower for other elections Tuesday. Only 15.3 percent of voters in Cinco Bayou cast ballots, and the turnout in Crestview was a mere 3.8 percent.
Each of those contests featured mayor and/or town/city council races.
In comparison, 75.7 percent of Okaloosa County’s 135,640 registered voters cast ballots in last fall’s general election, which included the presidential race.
The 3.8 percent voter turnout for Crestview’s latest election was the second-lowest ever in the history of municipal elections in Okaloosa County, Supervisor of Elections Paul Lux said Friday.
He said his predecessor, Pat Hollarn, recently told him that the lowest was about a 2 percent turnout for a long-ago second primary election. State legislators got rid of the second primary in 2001.
Since about 1992, eight of the county’s nine municipalities have held their elections on the second Tuesday in March, Lux said. Niceville’s takes place in July.
“It shouldn’t be a big surprise when the elections are held,” Lux said while bemoaning the low local voter turnout. And, “We don’t move polling places around on anybody.”
There are many reasons for the poor showing, he said.
For instance, “Those in the military, who are absent or here, don’t really feel it’s in their place to vote in the local elections,” Lux said. “They tend to shy away from it a little bit.
Also, "everyone is not unhappy with the way their government is being run. Otherwise, they’d come out in droves.”
Hoping for more voter participation, some local officials have occasionally asked to have their political issues/candidates placed on the general election ballot, Lux said. But in that scenario, the local matters and candidates would be at the bottom of the ballot and ignored by many voters, he said.
Huge differences in voter turnout for local and general elections also are evident in Santa Rosa County, which will host the next local election. On March 28, voters will cast ballots in a special election to decide whether to extend the current half-cent school infrastructure surtax for another 10 years.
The tax was first approved in 1998. It was renewed in March 2007 by 9.6 percent of the registered voters. In the last general election, more than 68 percent of voters cast ballots.
The large gap in voter turnout for local/special contests and general elections doesn’t startle Santa Rosa County Supervisor of Elections Tappie Villane.
“Typically, there is not as much media coverage on a special election compared to a general election,” she said.
And voters probably won’t flock to the polls March 28, Villane indicated.
“There’s only going to be one issue on the ballot,” she said. “But it’s a countywide election, so we prepare for it the same way” as other elections.
The existing infrastructure surtax expires Dec. 31, 2018. If it is renewed March 28, it will be in place through Dec. 31, 2028.
Santa Rosa County has 133,375 registered voters. As of Friday afternoon, more than 2,900 of them had cast absentee ballots.
The county’s 41 polling places will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. March 28.