Mick Ireland

With all the results finally in, the winner may not really be early March voting.

Notwithstanding a certain amount of weakly justified gloating on the part of the proponents, a deeper look at the results compared to the previous record year for municipal election turnout shows that moving the election date to early March produced the equivalent of about 250-350 votes above the previous record year for turnout.

Part of the increase in participation, from 2,544 in 2009 to 3,200 in 2019, is a product of a larger electorate. There are more voters on the rolls now because Burlingame phases one and two are now populated with voters along with some other recently added housing projects and because the population has grown a bit.

Turnout was up by about 656 voters but, adjusting for the growth of the eligible voters, the increase is not so impressive as this table shows:

 

2019:  3,200 (53.2 percent)

2009:  2,544 (44.7 percent)

 

The turnout percentage is 8.5 percent higher in 2019 than in 2009, a solid achievement but not a monumental one since at least part of the increase was due to factors other than moving the election day. In apples to apples math, adjusting for the larger number of voters registered in 2019, the increase was about 500 voters.

Some of that increase is clearly attributable to the Lift One question. The data shows that 45 voters skipped the mayoral contest altogether, meaning they were, most likely, there just to vote in the Lift One election. How many others showed up to vote for or against that issue and marked mayoral or council ballots as an afterthought is hard to gauge, but Lift One probably accounts for a few percentage points of the increase.

About 80 percent of the Lift One supporters identified publicly voted, as did a similar number of opponents. An 80 percent turnout from those who cared enough about the issue clearly boosted the voter total. The Lift One team not only spent money but reached out directly, with the leadership team actually going door to door for a month. If you didn’t know Jeff Gorsuch and Michael Brown, chances are you had a chance to meet them this winter at your door or at an event.

This election was by all mail ballot, unlike the previous turnout record in 2009. Going to mail ballots is also worth a few hundred votes if for no other reason than the reminder to vote and the convenience of doing so.

The bottom line is that turnout was perhaps about 250-350 votes more than it would have been in the old days with an election in May. The real questions are, at what cost was this achieved and is there an even better way to ensure more participation?

 

While voter turnout was up, the number of candidates, especially new, fresh faces, was down. The only new names on the ballot were Skippy Mesirow, Cale Mitchell and Linda Manning. Skippy was hardly a surprise as he has clearly been looking to this election for a year or two. Even Cale can’t be considered a newbie: he wanted to run last time but discovered he lived just outside the city limits. For Torre, this was just one of 10 or so ballot appearances and the rest were incumbents or had held office previously.

It is possible and even likely that one or more candidates were deterred by the thought of making the obligatory tour of voters at home, a small town luxury we take for granted, because knocking on doors after dark in the cold is not as much fun as it sounds.

Good skiing makes for bad walking. Handling pieces of paper and no-stick tape without gloves in sub-freezing weather sucks. Talk about disincentives: try gathering signatures over the holidays and spending the busiest time of the year at meet and greets and walking about in the dark looking for voters.

If, as Skippy Mesirow contends, the goal should be 100 percent turnout, there is a way to get much closer without over exposing the candidates to winter: have the municipal election coincide with the general election in even-numbered years.

Turnout last fall was 72 percent, almost 20 percent greater than in the March election. That’s actually closer to a 100 percent turnout than it appears because about 10 percent of the voters at any given time are “ghosts,” meaning they have moved away but remain on the rolls until they re-register somewhere else.

In the fall of 2018, 4,186 voters showed up, about 1,000 more than in the first round of the city election. More to the point, the percentage of votes coming from voters under 40 and voters under 50 was higher than in the March city election. And there were no recorded cases of frostbite, pneumonia or bronchitis in that election among the candidates or their volunteers.

Skippy, Wendle and their team deserve credit for a modest boost in participation. Perhaps they will now consider going for the big one by moving the election date to a time when we’re all going to vote anyway. Isn’t bringing another 1,000 voters to the polls worth at least as much effort as was expended to add about 250 or 350 with a March election?

 

Mick Ireland appreciates not only the effort to increase turnout but the campaigns of those who contributed by running, especially Ann, Cale, Linda, Adam and Bert, because winning isn’t everything.