Chapel Hill voters say lack of information, interest kept them home

tgrubb@newsobserver.comNovember 10, 2013 

  • Slow Day at the Polls

    This year’s municipal election resulted in some of the lowest vote totals in years, with an overall voter turnout rate of 11.78 percent. Here’s a look at the turnout in each town:

    • Chapel Hill: 6,459 ballots cast out of 47,781 registered voters, or 13.52 percent turnout. There also were 223 ballots cast by Durham County voters who live in the Chapel Hill town limits; the turnout among those voters was not available.

    The town’s voter turnout was 23.76 percent in 2009 and 22.46 percent in 2011.

    • Carrboro: 3,940 ballots cast out of 20,806 voters, or 18.94 percent turnout. In 2009, 20.21 percent of registered voters cast ballots; it was 35.80 percent in 2011.

    • Hillsborough: 2,563 ballots cast out of 4,738 voters, or 54.09 percent turnout. In 2009, 62.64 percent of registered voters cast ballots; it was 56.18 percent in 2011.

— Last week’s election stands out for the lack of interest it generated among voters.

There were no clashes between candidates. There were no sales taxes or construction bonds to support or defeat.

As a result, only 11.72 percent of voters in Carrboro, Hillsborough and Chapel Hill cast their ballots in the Nov. 5 mayoral, town board and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board contests, according to the Orange County Board of Elections. That works out to 8,736 out of 74,533 registered voters, at least 2,076 of whom voted early.

“I did not know enough about the candidates,” Nicole Maloney, a three-year Chapel Hill resident, said when asked if she voted the mayoral and Town Council races.

She’s not alone. Roughly two dozen Chapel Hill residents, most of whom declined to identify themselves, gave the same reason in an informal post-election poll last week. A few were surprised to hear there was an election. Others said they only vote in congressional and presidential elections.

Chapel Hill resident Lori Cahill said she always votes; this time, she knew many of the Town Council candidates and wanted to show her support, particularly for Maria Palmer.

“I guess I read some endorsements ... that kind of motivated me to vote for those people,” she said.

Cahill’s husband Paul Keller said he didn’t make it to the polls but always votes in bigger elections.

“I guess I was semi-busy, wasn’t up on everybody who was running,” he said. “An uninformed vote wasn’t probably a great thing.”

Primary and non-presidential elections traditionally don’t inspire voters.

In 2011, 29.95 percent of Orange County’s registered urban voters came out. That year also saw competitive Chapel Hill mayoral and council races, along with a proposed quarter-cent sales tax for schools and economic development.

In 2009, multiple Carrboro and Chapel Hill candidates, including a spirited mayor’s race between Augustus Cho and then council members Mark Kleinschmidt and Matt Czajkowski, drew 23.85 percent of town voters to the polls.

Kleinschmidt faced almost no competition this year. Mt. Bolus Drive resident Tom Henkel mounted a last-minute challenge, earning 244 votes for mayor, six for Town Council and at least two for Carrboro mayor.

Council member Czajkowski and blogger Nancy Oates also garnered mayoral votes: 39 and five, respectively.

There were very few differences on the issues among the nine Chapel Hill Town Council candidates. Voters returned Council members Ed Harrison and Sally Greene to their seats and chose George Cianciolo and Maria Palmer to join them.

A write-in challenge in that race resulted in six votes for Henkel and 81 for Chapel Hill resident Will Raymond.

Chapel Hill’s lowest vote totals this year were at precincts around the UNC campus and in neighborhoods north of Weaver Dairy Road and west of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard from Homestead Road through downtown.

The highest number of ballots came from the Coker Hills precinct, where 20.19 percent of the 1,253 registered voters came to the polls.

Hillsborough’s Town Board of Commissioners race did catch the attention of more than half of the town’s voters. Three new faces competed for two vacant seats; candidates Jenn Weaver and Kathleen Ferguson won those spots.

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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