Franklin County Clerk Tim Baker went so far as to make a video of himself singing to remind people it was municipal election day on Tuesday, April 6.
But the video, which was posted on the clerk’s office’s Facebook page (FCMOClerk), wasn’t enough to prevent the county from a new record low turnout — 6.88 percent. That’s less than the then-record low turnout of 7.38 percent in the June 2020 election. Those municipal elections were moved from April because of the newly spreading coronavirus.
Baker said his office received many calls leading up to the April 6 municipal elections from residents asking what there was to vote on in their precincts.
“We would tell them there’s a school bond issue, and they would say, ‘That’s not worth going out to vote on,’ ” Baker said. “That’s disheartening.”
The highest turnout in the county was at Pacific’s in-town polling place, where 15.38 percent of voters showed up for races, including a city marshal contest won by Scott Melies, a competitive aldermen’s race won by Jerry Eversmeyer, a school bond issue that was approved and a school board election won by Mary Clasby-Agee. The lowest turnout was in Luebbering, where none of the 96 eligible voters showed up to vote in a school board election, the only item on the ballot.
St. Clair, which had a mayor’s race decided by 12 votes, had turnout of 14.87 percent. That resulted in a recount, which confirmed the margin of Cozy Bailey’s victory.
Two council wards in Washington with competitive elections also were among the higher turnouts. Ward 4, won by Joel Holtmeier, had turnout of 15.13 percent, and Ward 1, which had a five-way race won by Duane Reed, had 13.43 percent turnout.
Only 289 people voted absentee, with 75 coming into the clerk’s office to vote in person, “which is a far cry from the 6,000 we had in November,” Baker said.
In all, 4,104 of 59,649 eligible voters took part in the April 6 election. Some precincts did not open because there were no issues or races to vote on.
Despite having a competitive alderman race, won by Dennis Soetebier, Union’s Ward 3 only saw a 4.77 percent turnout.
Baker defended his decision to stop sending out reminder cards for the election. He said the move saved the county $100,000 last year and wouldn’t have made more than a couple points turnout difference in April.
In between the record low municipal elections, the county had record high turnout in the November 2020 presidential election.
“The elections show people come out to vote when they want to. November was a prime example of that,” Baker said. “Unfortunately, the local elections, where they can really make an impact, are the lowest turnout.”
Franklin County wasn’t the only place to see record low turnout. According to the Jefferson County Clerk’s Office, that county’s turnout of 8.21 percent was the lowest for a municipal election, beating out the 11.67 percent of June 2020 and the previous April low of 8.35 percent in 2012.
The only lower turnout than this April in Jefferson County was 7.65 percent for the 2012 presidential primary.
Although turnout was low in Franklin County, and the process ran smoothly, Baker said it was still a long day for him and the election judges.
“We prepare for 100 percent of the voting population to come out,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if one person shows up or all 74,000; we’re going to make sure it’s right.”
As of now, the April elections were the last scheduled for 2021. That could change if a taxing entity were to schedule a bond issue election.
Despite the low turnout, Baker does not favor moving city and school elections to November, saying that would require double or triple the 39 ballot styles his office had to produce for the April election. He said some people would not even see the local races if they were on the back of a crowded November ballot.
Baker has been critical of many county employees initially not receiving W-2 tax forms and then receiving incorrect forms. He said they finally received their correct forms Monday.