HUNTERSVILLE – Voter turnout for the Nov. 5 municipal elections brought some encouraging signs.
Nearly 5,000 people – 4,923 to be exact – voted in the mayoral race, which saw incumbent Jill Swain edge challenger Jim Puckett by 26 votes. That number marked a 27-percent uptick in total turnout.
Fourteen percent of registered voters cast a ballot for mayor in 2013, compared to 11 percent in 2011 and 14 percent in 2009.
Mecklenburg County’s voter turnout by percentage also remains lower than it was in previous years.
According to the Board of Elections website, Mecklenburg County had a 21.2-percent voter turnout in 2009 for its municipal elections, a 16.23-percent turnout in 2011 and a slight increase to 17.67 percent this year.
Fourteen years ago, the county boasted a 26-percent voter turnout for its municipal elections.
Huntersville's voter turnout percentage has also dropped.
Huntersville, in 1999, had 4,216 voters – 27 percent of those registered – visit the polls for the mayoral election.
Swain said after she won the election that it simply came down to who showed up at the polls on Election Day.
So, why is there a decrease in Huntersville’s voter turnout percentages?
Michael Dickerson, the director of elections for Mecklenburg County, said it's simple.
“As your town grows, folks who are new to the area may not be involved in local politics,” he said. “That's generally what you'll see in high-growth municipalities.”
The increase in turnout this year, Dickerson added, is attributable to nearly 2,000 people registering to vote in the town since 2011 – many who did so in advance of the 2012 presidential election.
“A lot of it is also what's on the ballot,” he said. “That can play a big role. It's going to take more to engage people.”
One option would be to change the town’s elections for mayor and commissioner to come on even-numbered years, to pair with presidential elections. That would lead to more votes for mayor and commissioner, but candidates would then have to compete with presidential and gubernatorial hopefuls for advertising space and attention, Dickerson said.
As long as the numbers show an increase, as they do from 2011 to 2013 in Huntersville, Dickerson said things are positive.
Huntersville voter turnout for mayor
• 2007: 21 percent (5,754 out of 27,316)
• 2009: 14 percent (4,256 out of 31,069)
• 2011: 11 percent (3,589 out of 32,759)
• 2013: 14 percent (4,923 out of 34,552)
Source: Mecklenburg County Board of Elections