Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Who votes in school board elections? Not everyone, that’s for sure.

In all the conversations about who won and lost school board races on Tuesday, one fact nearly got overlooked: Many voters didn't help choose those winners and losers.

Those little ovals next to the candidates' names went unmarked by the thousands. In Pasco County, the undervote hovered at 15 percent, while it neared 13 percent in Pinellas County, 8 percent in Hernando and 7.3 percent in Hillsborough.

It's only positive in comparison to the voting for judges.

"Sadly, it's very common, ballot fatigue," Pasco supervisor of elections Brian Corley said. "You'll see it with the amendments in November, which personally frustrates me as an election administrator, because as we know, every vote matters."

Corley and Hillsborough elections supervisor Craig Latimer both observed the trend is evident year after year. The upshot, Latimer noted, is "a small number of people make a decision on who a school board member is going to be."

In all four Tampa Bay area counties, at least one board seat was won in the primary, where already the turnout is lower than a general election. Others are headed to runoffs, where it can happen again.

After all, the trend becomes even more apparent during major elections, Latimer said. He noted about 50,000 more voters in 2012 cast ballots for president than any other race. By the time they got down to more than a dozen amendment and other initiatives, he noted, the numbers fell by nearly 100,000.

Corley said it's an issue he brings up when speaking to students, and even jury pools. Every race carries consequences, he said, and by skipping the nonpartisan or down-ballot items, "you literally are letting someone else choose for you."

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