North Texas Daily

Low voter turnout plagues Denton government

Low voter turnout plagues Denton government

Low voter turnout plagues Denton government
May 01
01:28 2014

Javier Navarro // Staff Writer

One day while teaching his upper-level political science class, professor Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha asked his students if they planned to vote during local elections—only three hands were raised.

April 28 marked the start of early voting in Denton, and while hope is always high, for a number of years, Denton has seen a low turnout during local elections.

There are about 115,000 registered voters in the city, but less than 4,000 citizens cast ballots, according to Denton city councilman Kevin Roden said there are a number of reasons why voter turnout in Denton is low during local elections

“There’s a lack of ways to engage what’s going on in the local level,” Roden said. “National politicians are constantly dangling hot topic issues in front of us [such as] gay marriage, abortion and war. Locally, we don’t have that sort of ‘sexiness,’ it just is what it is.”

Although Denton is considered a college town, the student population also doesn’t participate much in local elections, Roden said.

The low turnout from students could be attributed to the fact that most students see Denton as a temporary place to live, Eshbaugh-Soha said.

“There’s also this mindset of ‘I’m here for school and I’m not going to be around, why would I participate?’,” Eshbaugh-Soha said.

Roden said he understands the mindset because he experienced the position himself during college years. He added that most students are registered in their hometown and temporarily changing that can be challenging for some.

“But at the same time, I would love for more college students to get involved,” Roden said. “I think it’s a matter of finding ways to engage them locally.”

The low turnout isn’t unique to the city of Denton, Eshbaugh-Soha said. Turnout for local elections tends to be low for Texas as a whole.

“States like Minnesota where they really value government and that they want to pay taxes for government services, those individuals vote,” Eshbaugh-Soha said. “In Texas, we don’t like taxes. We would rather have people leave us alone.”

Although there isn’t one solid solution to the voter turnout problem, Eshbaugh-Soha said getting people engaged and making them excited about local issues could encourage more people to vote.

Roden has made an effort to get the Denton community more involved by being active on social media and hosting forums like the candidate forum he hosted at Dan’s Silverleaf, which had a significant turnout, he said.

“I like going out to where folks are and where they’re congregating and inspiring them on what’s going on in the city,” Roden said. “I find that you will get engaged to the extent where you feel like ‘I have a seat at the table,’ and that you as a citizen can help create the change you want to see in the city.”

Being active has also led to a better voter turnout among the younger population in his district, Roden said. When he was first elected, Roden said the average voting age in his district was 63. Recently, the average dropped to 53.

There are also groups who encourage more people to vote such as The League of Women Voters of Denton, a nonpartisan organization that encourages people by informing them about issues and candidates

“We would say ‘Well if you didn’t vote, you can’t complain’,” said Sue Smith, president of The League of Women Voters of Denton. “So we provide the information [for residents]. We are political in the sense that we support political issues.”

The league also publishes a guide for each election that highlights when elections take place, locations to vote at and what exactly residents are voting for, she said.

Smith said Denton wasn’t always inactive during local elections, especially when she joined the league during the late 1960s. She hopes the league has made an impact, because every vote counts.

Not participating in local elections can have its consequences, Eshbaugh-Soha said. Local elections can affect the community, and not voting can lead to policies that don’t reflect what the public really wants, he said.

“You get a chance to help guide the policy of your city and create the city you want,” Roden said. “When you’re looking at turnouts of about 4,000 to 4,500, that’s not a lot. A group of 100 people can change an election.”

Feature photo: A “Vote Here” sign placed outside of an elementary school. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

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