Pandemic, Moment Attributed to Low Voter Turnout in Attleboro Area Despite Large Tax Hikes | Local News

The low voter turnout has been widely lamented in the region and across the country, but what has come as a surprise to many is that voters fail to show up even when large tax hikes are in. Game.

In Norton, residents in the April annual municipal election and May annual town hall meeting supported a tax hike via a 2 1/2 proposal, a $ 41 million debt exclusion for a new hotel in town, a senior / community support center and a high school sports complex.

In Plainville, during the annual municipal elections in April, for the second year in a row, voters overwhelmingly rejected a budget exemption from the 2 1/2 proposal, the law limiting state tax deductions. The request was for just under $ 2 million.

Although the results of these decisions have a direct impact on residents’ wallets, only one in five voters went to the polls.

Norton’s election drew 3,252 voters, or 24%, out of about 13,700 registered voters. At the city meeting, 781 showed up.

The ballot question that was passed raises taxes by about $ 300 per year for a house worth an average of $ 450,000 to pay off a 30-year bond for the three construction projects. A second question in the ballot, to suppress the municipal assembly by a change of charter, was not approved.

The construction plans were narrowly passed in the election, but were easily approved in a city assembly, with only a dozen dissenters.

So why don’t more residents bother to vote even when their tax dollars are at stake?

Norton’s selected board member Michael Toole attributes some of the blame to the pandemic.

“In my opinion, that (turnout) was very low, especially since the municipal elections had a selective board race, the charter issue and debt exclusion,” Toole said, adding that he was very close to the total voters for a 2017 election which included a missed budget overrun. “I think COVID played a role in the low turnout.

“However, in my observation of other thematic elections, this year’s municipal elections had more municipal communications, letters, briefings on public hearings and social media posts than never before. While some might think it would promote voter turnout, it can also answer questions and put residents at ease about many of these decisions. “

Toole added that he also believed there had been a “federal election hangover” from the highly controversial 2020 presidential election, in which Norton had a turnout of 10,000 voters.

“I can try to speculate why turnout rates are lower than we all expected on big city issues, but I really don’t know,” Toole said. “All I / we can do is educate residents and provide as much information as possible so that they can make an informed decision on these important issues. “

City clerk Lucia Longhurst expected at least 5,000 voters in the April election.

“I don’t know why the turnout was low. I’d like to know, ”Longhurst said.

In Plainville, the situation was similar.

The proposed $ 1.95 million budget override was to increase property taxes by less than $ 115 per fiscal quarter effective July 1 for the average single-family homeowner by $ 401,000.

The turnout was 1,531, or 22% of the city’s voters, and the measure lost 933 to 591.

“The townspeople made their positions very clear during our last waiver attempt and it seemed to create a big division. This attempt was meant to be a compromise, where all departments were able to bring in just what was needed most, ”said Chairman of the Board Brian Kelly. “The amount offered was much lower and did not generate the strong emotions of the last attempt. This may have resulted in a drop in attendance.

City Clerk Ellen Robertson is also a little taken aback.

“I didn’t know what to expect for a turnout in the April 2021 election as there wasn’t a lot of discussion or interest in mail-in ballots,” Robertson said, noting that the requests postal ballots generally predict turnout.

The previous budget waiver election took place in June 2020 and requested $ 3.25 million from voters. The turnout was almost 37%, or about 1,000 more voters.

The two priority elections led to substantial cuts in municipal and school services and numerous layoffs.

“It’s hard to say why the turnout was only 22%,” Robertson said of the second exemption vote. “We had information on our website regarding the waiver with several meetings to try to get the information out to the public. “

Kelly also mentioned it.

“One of the most frustrating things about our current situation is that despite all of our attempts to try and provide voters with information on options that could lead to a restoration of service levels, it appears we haven’t. no direct channel to make sure everyone is in the loop, ”he said.

Brad Bishop, professor of political science at Wheaton College in Norton specializing in US politics, parties and elections, said voter turnout was “definitely affected by the timing”.

He pointed out that the highest turnout is seen in presidential elections where 60% to 65% vote, with midterm elections reaching around 40%.

“Elections held at times other than the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November have always attracted fewer voters,” he said. “It’s not uncommon for spring elections that occupy seats on local governing bodies to see a turnout of 10% or even lower than that, depending on the state. “

When comparing between communities, demographics are predictive of participation, Bishop said.

“Municipalities with a higher proportion of citizens with a four-year degree tend to have a high participation rate. The same effects are observed for other socio-economic variables such as household income, ”he said.

The initial rationale for holding state and local elections in slack years or some other part of the calendar year was to prevent policy at the national level from affecting voting to others. levels of government, explained the professor.

“The decision to hold local elections in the spring for many communities has its roots in the progressive era, as many people at that time were concerned about widespread corruption in local governments,” Bishop said. “Many believed that holding elections at a different time of year would prevent political issues at the national level from impacting local controversies, thus placing more emphasis on local competitions.

“The problem with this system is that voter attention to local politics is waning, especially in our current era of polarized and confrontational national politics,” Bishop added. “The lower turnout we are seeing in local elections raises difficult questions about the extent to which the spring electorate is truly representative of the community. “

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