Cover Story: Local races - big impact

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Election Day downer.  Why voters aren't expected to pack the polls in Charlotte and across the area on Tuesday.

There are municipal elections in every county in North Carolina.  And while the outcome will have a big impact on all of our lives, that impact may not be enough to get people to the polls.

When it comes to voting it seems the smaller the office the bigger the influence over you and the fewer people making the decision.

No matter what city or town you live in they make decisions that will affect your safety and your taxes and your child's education.

Yet when it comes down to deciding who will lead us, very few will take the trouble to vote.

"This is the classic American voter," says Dr. Michael Bizer, political scientist at Catawba College in Salisbury.  "They will tune in heavily to a presidential election.  They'll maybe tune in to a mid-term congressional election. When it comes to the local locations, "I'm sorry, there's an election tomorrow?"

In the last presidential election in 2008, 66-percent of the registered voters in Mecklenburg county showed up at the polls.

The turnout for the last city election in Charlotte in 2009 (which is typical for most cities in North Carolina) was 22-percent.  2 out of 10 voters.

And that was with an open mayor's seat with two city councilmen running against each other.

If Early Voting is any predictor we may be on par to seeing fewer show up this year than two years ago.

"No Excuses Voting" which ran for two weeks and ended Saturday is down 25-percent over Early Voting in 2009.  More than 24-thousand voted that year in Mecklenburg county, about 18-thousand this year.

"Sure we would have loved to have done more.. but the 18-3.. that's a pretty good number. We're happy with that. That's 18-thousand voters we've already taken care of and don't have to worry about tomorrow," says Mecklenburg Elections Director Michael Dickerson.

With a mayor's race that's seen commercials on TV, and his opponent holding news conferences regularly.  Campaigns that have seen hundreds of thousands of dollars raised.  And a slate of 14 names on the ballot for the CMS Board of Education At-Large seats, turnout could be higher than officials are expecting.

Catawba College's Michael Bitzer says there's something to be said for having local elections in off years.  Candidates don't have to compete for voters' attention.

"The candidates will say we want these in off-presidential election years because a presidential election will literally suck the attention out and nobody will get any kind of media publicity opportunity," he said.

Some would consider it almost a double-edged sword.  Put city elections in with the presidential race when there are three times as many people voting and the ballot would be too long - city races might get lost in and amongst all the other state and county offices.

Elections Director Michael Dickerson thinks turnout in Mecklenburg county will be on par with the 2009 election - about 22-percent turnout.

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