Saturday, July 17, 2010

City Impact may be lessened in state/county primaries due to lack of local primaries and contests involving two elected officials

Traditionally, the City of Wilmington, where the Democratic primary is often the deciding election, has enough registered Democrats and higher percentage points in turnout than suburban and rural areas to be a major deciding factor in statewide Delaware Democratic primaries and countywide primaries in New Castle County.

Wilmington will definitely be a factor in the 2010 statewide and countywide primaries,but I think it's impact will be lessened due to fewer primaries in the state legislative districts that have a city resident as a representative ( State Representative Districts 1-4) . The only state senate seat on the 2010 ballot with a city resident as incumbent, the 1st state senate district, has Harris McDowell running unopposed. In the 1st and 4th district Dennis Williams and Gerald Brady are each unopposed. Incumbent Hazel Plant is being opposed in the 2nd district by city council member, Stephanie Boulden and in the 3rd district incumbent Helene Keeley faces Robert Bovell in a rematch of their 2006 contest in which she won 600-413.

In 2006 each of these four representative districts had a primary for state representative .The 1st State Senate district which includes 7 election districts in the 1st ,2 election districts in the 3rd and 7 election districts in the 4th also had a primary. Harris McDowell won with less than a majority in a four way race in which one of his opponents was city council member Charles Potter. Williams, Plant and Keeley each won in fields with no opponent with experience as an elected official and each won with 60+% of the vote. Brady, then serving as a district city council member, won in a three-way race in which his closest competitor was at-large council member Loretta Walsh ,who Brady beat by 70 votes.

In 2002 McDowell won a primary contest against Thornton Carroll with 63% of the vote. Williams beat former Wilmington police chief Charles Pratcher 1,423 to 540 and Keeley defeated challenger Linda Cannon 685-192. Hazel Plant ,in her first election contest since winning a special election in Jan 2001 and running in a district altered by the 2002 reapportionment, had a tougher 5 way race beating her closest rival,State Representative Arthur Scott, who lived in the same district following redistricting, by only 12 votes. Also among her opponents was former city council member Gary Hutt.

It is a small sample to draw a conclusion from ,but in looking at the turnout in the U. S . Representative Democratic primaries in 2002 and 2006 I am wondering if there might be a pattern impacting voter turnout.When two elected officials go head-to-head it seems to bump up turnout overall,although much of the turnout is focused on their race and not the whole ballot.

I noticed that in 2002 when Plant had two opponents who had successfully won election in the past, Scott and Hutt, voter turnout in the U.S. Representative race was 17% (1,292 out of 7,264 Democrats voted). 1,576 voted in the 2nd state rep race, 284 more than the Congressional primary which is about a 18% droppoff from state rep to U.S. Rep.

In 2006 when she defeated a community acitivist had never held public office , Don Farrell, the turnout in the U.S. Rep race was only 9% (773 voting out of 7,953 registered Democrats). 815 people voted in the Plant-Farrell primary.The 42 people who did not vote in the U.S. Rep,but did vote in the state rep race represents about a 5% dropoff.

In 2002 when there was no primary for state rep in the 4th rep district turnout in the U.S. House primary was 12 % ( 848 out of 6,762),but when Brady and Walsh , both sitting elected officials, faced off in 2006 turnout increased to 19% (1,344 of 6,780) in the Congressional primary. This was an increase of 496 votes cast even though there were only 18 more registered Democrats! The 4th state rep primary drew 1,486 votes cast,meaning about 9% of those who voted for state rep passed up voting in the Congressional race.

McDowell's 2002 race against Carroll only turned out 2,179 voters. In 2006 2,984 voters turned out in a race in which Councilman Charles Potter was his closest opponent by several hundred votes.This represented a 21% turnout (2,984 of 14,166 registered Democrats) in an election in which countywide Democratic turnout was 8.39%.13,734 Democrats voted countywide and 21% of them voted in this state senate race.I am thinking the fact that two sitting elected officials, with name recognition,organizations and experience running campaigns, were in the race had something to do with this turnout being out of proportion to the rest of the county.

If this theory has validity where it might show an impact is the 2nd rep district where some of people who have seen Plant & Boulden on the ballot multiple times may skip other races while voting in the state rep race. For the statewide and county row office candidates it may very well be not just a matter of getting people to polls,but giving people a reason to vote in their particular race.

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