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Editorial: Carroll’s primary turnout disappointing

Editorial: Carroll’s primary turnout disappointing
First time voter Benjamin Simmons votes at West Middle School/William Winchester Elementary School on Tuesday, June 26, 2018. (Jen Rynda / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

One in 5. That’s how many registered Carroll County voters turned out to participate in this year’s primary election, either by voting Tuesday or filing a ballot early. Even when accounting for a possible 775 total absentee and provisional ballots, that’s the lowest percentage turnout since the turn of the century for a primary election in Carroll. This, despite a 13-percent increase in the number of individuals who cast ballots during the early voting period.

Maybe that’s understandable. Most people who vote are drawn by “top of the ticket” races, and Gov. Larry Hogan was all alone unopposed at the top of the Republican Party’s ballot. Yet it is the local races for county commissioner and school board that will likely have the most significant effect on local residents’ day-to-day lives.

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And it’s not like things have been hunky-dory at the local level. The Board of County Commissioners just completed arguably one of its most difficult budget cycles since the county moved from three commissioners to five. Voters in Districts 4 and 5 were choosing brand new representation on the county board, with sitting Commissioners Richard Rothschild and Doug Howard, respectively, finishing their second terms at the end of the year.

The next board will be faced with not only those budget challenges — which could mean a decision to consider a tax increase — but may also be tasked with approving the Freedom Area land-use plan, developing a plan for the future of fire and emergency services in the county, as well as capital spending to address aging school buildings.

Yet, turnout was lower in every single district race compared to 2014 and 2010.

Speaking of which, the Board of Education also faces some tough decisions that could affect parents and students. Depending on whether the Redistricting and School Closure Committee meets its deadlines, the next school board might be the one determining what redistricting might look like and whether there will be additional closures. At the very least, the next board will be tasked with carrying out those plans. The school board will also be asked to address testing and other curriculum choices, collaborating with the Sheriff’s Office to carry out plans for school resource officers and dealing with the fallout of any state legislation related to the recommendations of the Kirwan Commission. Not to mention the next round of teacher contracts.

Yet, 14,500 fewer ballots were cast in BOE races this year versus 2014. (And that was before controversial school closures were being discussed.)

The bottom line is there is too much at stake for 4 out of 5 voters to stay home during the election.

Elections, especially primaries, in a nonpresidential year are far from glamorous. But, particularly in Carroll County, where it’s all but a guarantee the Republican primary winners will soundly defeat the Democratic challenger — if one exists in their particular race — it’s a shame more people don’t take it seriously.

Only two of the five Republican commissioner district winners have a primary challenger. Voters will be able to choose three of the field of six Board of Education candidates who advanced in the general election, so there is still a chance to have your voice heard come November, just with fewer choices.

We suspect there will be plenty of decisions made in the coming years that will solicit vocal outcry from far more than 20 percent of county residents. And yet, when given the opportunity to have a say, 4 out of every 5 voters passed it up.

While we think, in almost all cases, the right people were chosen Tuesday, it’s still sad that so few made choices that will affect so many.

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