Local elections are much more important than the paltry voter turnout numbers suggest. Although no official turnout statistics are available yet, it seems likely that only about one-third of eligible voters cast ballots during Tuesday’s municipal elections. The vast majority of registered voters apparently saw no value in deciding who will serve as their town’s mayor, or on the city council, or other local offices.
But like most things in life, the importance of local elections can be oversold. Here are some of the reasons.
* The elections were not a landslide for anyone
In 2011, Democrats declared victory early on election night and it became the narrative of the evening. It took Republicans nearly a full day to argue that the results were far more nuanced than the initial narrative suggested, but the damage was already done.
This time around, it was clear the mistake would not be repeated. Although these elections did not produce a clear victory for either political party, both sides declared victory. Republicans highlighted wins in New Britain, Meriden, and Bristol while the Democrats
pointed to Stamford, Norwalk, and Derby as evidence of their success. The real result was a mixed bag that seemed to have far more to do with local issues and local candidates than it did big, party-based dynamics. But that didn’t stop either side from arguing the case.
* The government shutdown didn’t drag down the Republican Party
Perhaps the biggest story out of the municipal elections is what did not happen. Just weeks after Congressional Republicans shut down the federal government in a vain and futile attempt to get President Barack Obama to water down or repeal his signature legislative accomplishment, Obamacare, some observers wondered if the national party’s antics would trickle down to harm Republicans running for local offices. The election results did not produce evidence that it did. Instead, Republicans like Mayor-elect Erin Stewart won in cities like New Britain with overwhelming Democratic voter registration advantages.
* The flawed rollout of Obamacare hasn’t harmed the Democratic Party . . . yet
Just as the federal government shutdown blame didn’t taint local Republicans, blame for the fumbled roll out of the HealthCare.gov website and the health insurance policy cancellation notices did not drag down local Democrats. Instead, Democrats like Mayor-elect Harry Rilling won in towns like Norwalk even though the incumbent Mayor Dick Moccia had been elected to four terms.
* Finding out what actually happened in local elections seems more challenging than it ought to be
Despite the existence of communication technologies like the Internet, computers, and a smartphone in virtually pocket or purse, overcoming the challenge of collecting election results from 165 towns simultaneously still has not been overcome. State officials rightly leave most aspects of local elections to local officials. The fact that an enterprising news outlet or organization has not yet conceived and executed a plan for quickly gathering and reporting election results is somewhat remarkable. Instead, at least one news-gathering organization opined that the state should gather this news.
This is a role waiting for a private sector actor to fill.
* The implications of the elections for next year are unclear
Shortly after Twitter’s initial public offering on Thursday, one analyst on CNBC confidently predicted that the company’s share price would either, “go up or go down in the coming weeks.” Similarly, Gov. Dan Malloy will either be re-elected in November 2014, or he won’t. The local elections provide precious few signals about what the eventual outcome of that contest will be. Efforts to suggest otherwise are a stretch to say the least.
Heath W. Fahle is the Policy Director of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy and a former Executive Director of the Connecticut Republican Party. Contact Heath about this article by visiting www.heathwfahle.com