I voted yesterday. Did you? Probably not.
For a community that professes to care passionately about its values, its schools, and its children, voter turnout in Mt. Lebanon in yesterday's primary election was pathetic. Given the issues now facing the School District -- planning for high school renovations, possible changes to the assessment system and corresponding school tax overhauls, and looming pension liabilities, not to mention the quality of the education provided to local children, which is no longer clearly providing some of the best in the Commonwealth -- this election may turn out to be the most important School Board election in memory and for years to come. Yet turnout yesterday was just less than 25% (5,341 ballots cast, by my count, out of 22,821 registered Democratic and Republican voters). Here is the raw data, from Allegheny County
. The County statistics report an overall turnout that's closer to 20% (5,341 out of 25,608 registered voters), but the County doesn't account for the roughly 3,000 registered independents and other non-Ds and non-Rs, none of whom were eligible to vote yesterday.
The difference between 20% and 25% isn't huge; in either case, the low turnout -- on a day when there was no weather, disaster, or traffic to impede access to the polls -- speaks volumes about Mt. Lebanon's true priorities and about people who aren't willing to put their votes where their mouths are.
It's true, of course, that yesterday's election was only a primary; the real fireworks come next Fall. As I understand the rules, the results yesterday lead only to the exclusion of one candidate (Electa Boyle) from the November ballot, because she did not finish among the top four candidates in either the Democratic primary or the Republican primary. (So much for re-using the "R Team" yard signs!)
Yet her failure to make it into the top four, especially among the Republicans, makes me wonder about party politics in a school board election -- especially in the primary. In other words, with so few people voting, I puzzle over the effort that goes into caring about what the Mt. Lebanon Republican Committee and the Mt. Lebanon Democratic Committee might do or say or who they might endorse in local races. I was a paid political operative (briefly) in a prior life, and I learned that the chief purpose and virtue of a party organization is getting people to the polls to vote for the party's candidate(s). Maybe the party Committees helped to bring turnout from an unbelievably disgraceful level up to the merely pathetic level that we saw yesterday. But that seems unlikely to me. I'm a registered party member; I got no GOTV contact leading up to yesterday's election. Did the Republican committee do GOTV for its endorsed candidates?
Maybe party affiliation is a label that helps voters identify who to vote for. But in a local race for a non-partisan office, that theory is full of holes, too. Four candidates ran as the "R" team, for example, but it's not clear that the "R" label, or the Republican endorsement, helped. Not only did one of the "R"s (Electa Boyle) not finish among the top four in the Republican primary, but a different "R" (Dale Ostergaard) finished fourth in the Democratic primary. Mary Birks, who I believe is an unendorsed candidate, finished second in the D primary and fourth in the R primary. (This is based on the unofficial results.
The Fall election season promises to be interesting. I hope that more people show up at the polls in November.