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Election turnout very low

By Staff | Jun 4, 2010

Poll worker John Christman removes the election day regalia and signage from the front window of the Entler Hotel after the closing of polls on Tuesday. Photo by Michael Theis/Chronicle

It was slow going at the polls in Tuesday’s municipal election. Only 7 percent of registered voters in the Corporation of Shepherdstown, a mere 60 people, cast ballots at the Entler Hotel polling location. Many residents of Shepherds-town openly wondered if the low voter turnout was tied to the fact that every single candidate was running unopposed, and there were only four candidates running for five Town Council seats. The remaining seat is to be filled by appointment of the Mayor and Town Council.

Incumbent Town Councilwoman Wanda Grantham Smith again snagged the most votes of any Town Council candidate, with 47 votes. Current Planning Commissioner David Rosen won 44 votes. Bane Schill, another current member of the municipal Planning Commission, recieved 42 votes. Josh Stella, also a member of the Planning Commission, received the least votes with 38 cast in his favor.

The low turnout puzzled Smith, the only Town Council member elected who can claim to be a Shepherdstownian from birth, and the most active voter on the slate, having cast ballots in over 20 elections since 1996. “Maybe because there wasn’t even a full slate, I don’t even want to speculate,” said Smith by phone on Wednesday. “I feel that I have the, and I’m guaranteed that right to vote, so I’m going to vote.”

The low voter turnout didn’t really surprise Stella. He says that if there are no contests on the ballot, then there is no democratic expression on the ballot. “I can understand a general ethical position that one should always vote,” said Schill in a telephone interview on Tuesday night, “but on the other hand, it didn’t mean antyhing so I can’t criticize people for not voting.”?Schill disagrees, calling the low voter turnout “terrible.” He noted that Shepherdstown’s municipal government is, by and large, volunteer. “we have to somehow stir up a little more interest. Not necessarily by creating a controversey,” said Schill, laughing a bit, by phone on Wednesday morning, “but if we could get people to pitch in that’d be good.” This was Schill’s first time voting in Shepherdstown’s election since he moved to the area in 1996. He was registered to vote in Middleway until this year, but did not vote in any elections between 1998 and 2007.

Robertson, who oversaw the election as the incumbent Town Recorder, speculated that the lack of contested races de-motivated people who otherwise would have voted, but admitted that she can’t really tell the disposition of the electorate from a simple voter turnout percentage. She contrasted the 2008 election, which featured a contested race for Mayor, with this election, saying that “when people are angry with what the Town Council does, they come out, so I don’t know if it means that they are okay with what we’re doing or because it was uncontested and they didn’t bother.”

Shepherdstown’s 2008 municipal election saw 237 ballots cast out of a possible 733 registered voters for a 32 percent turnout. The 2006 municipal election saw almost 40 percent of Shepherdstown’s registered voters cast ballots. Even more recent is the voter turnout recorded during last month’s mid-term primary elections where the 33rd electoral precinct, encompassing Shepherdstown proper, recorded a 20 percent voter turnout.

Though not yet verified by official records, Town Clerk Amy Boyd, who has worked for the Corporation of Shepherdstown since the 1990’s, says she cannot recall a time in recent memory when voter turnout was so low.

Despite the low turnout, Robertson praised the work of her election workers and volunteers. They are forbidden by law to leave the premises while voting is being conducted, yet Robertson says they worked dilligently and happily, with Robertson herself running around German Street buying food and water for the workers.

With the election behind them, the council candidates now turn to the task of managing the Corporation of Shepherdstown. Mayor Auxer said on Wednesday that he is looking forward to “the continuing support from the townspeople and for the number of projects that we have on the agenda.”

He also has a message for those who didn’t cast ballots in the election, saying “the town government still wants to hear from them regarding concerns or issues of the town government.”

Schill says he wants to work with the other council members to manage the town’s finances. His goal is to make sure that the Corporation of Shepherdstown does not become too dependent on video lottery money. “It’s one thing to have it as an extra source of income, but we don’t wanna depend on that,” said Schill. “It’s nutso to think that money’s going to fall from the sky forever like that.”

Josh Stella, who ran on a platform to reduce the power of the Town Council, says he still plans on introducing legislation which would give more power to the residents of town through referendum votes and increasing the town’s presence on the Web.

Smith says that she will, like before, work to provide constituent services to anyone who approaches her with an issue for the Town Council to consider.

David Rosen, voting in his first municipal election this week, said that he will spend some time getting caught up to speed and that he plans on working on “all the current items that are going on right now and to continue the great work that the previous Town Council has done.”