Political scientists and experts said that voter turnout is almost always lower in runoff elections. Theories about why range from the smaller number of names on the ballot to the notion that there might simply be too many elections.
“The main reason for voter turnout decrease is because there are fewer offices and fewer names on the ballot,” said Glen Browder, a professor of political science and public administration at Jacksonville State University.
“Some could make an argument that voter fatigue has something to do with the low turnout rates. By the time these elections come around everyone is tired, including the voters and the politicians. But I still think the main reason is because there are fewer names in the race.”
There’s no arguing the fact that turnout is lower in runoff elections.
In the 2008 Anniston city elections, 766 people voted in the Ward 2 City Council election, but in the runoffs, only 614 voters cast ballots, a 20 percent decrease in turnout. That seat is up for a runoff again today, between David Reddick and Sheffton Goodson.
This August, 1,138 residents voted in the Anniston Ward 2 City Council election. If there is a 20 percent decrease again this year, about 910 voters will cast ballots.
In some 2008 races, the dropoff from municipal election to runoff was even sharper.
When the Jacksonville mayoral election was held in 2008, 1,825 people voted in the election. But only 570 voters participated in the runoff, a dropoff of about 69 percent.
Voters in Jacksonville today will decide a runoff for one City Council seat, between incumbent George Areno and Jerry Parris.
“The people who are most interested in the runoffs are friends and family of the people running and the old standbys who feel it is their civic duty to vote,” said Browder.
Bill Stewart, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Alabama, agreed with Browder, saying that people lose interest as fewer names are on the ballot. But Stewart also said that voter fatigue plays a big part in the low turnout.
In March, Alabama voters went to the polls for party primaries, picking from among the Republican candidates for president, and selecting candidates for local offices in both parties. In some places, voters then had to chose again in a primary runoff. Then in August came the municipal elections, followed by today’s runoff. Next month, voters will again got to the polls to cast ballots for everything from president to circuit court clerk.
“The more times you ask people to go to the polls, the less people are going to go,” said Stewart. “In places where there are fewer elections like Great Britain and Italy, there are much higher turnouts.”
Stewart said holding election after election is not necessarily a good thing.
“We are called upon to fill too many positions. You have positions that the average person is not really qualified to decide,” he said. “Just because we are a democracy, doesn’t mean we have to elect as many people as we do.”
David Lanoue, dean of Columbus State University’s political science department, said that low turnout not only shows a lack of political interest, but also it can sometimes lead to an unusual constituency in the runoff.
“In the runoff it can be a completely different pool of voters from the first time around, and that can distort the results of who is elected,” said Lanoue.
But some are more optimistic about the polls.
“I think it will depend some on the weather, but I think there will be a bigger turnout for both the ward runoffs,” said Carolyn Henderson, a board member of the Calhoun County Board of Registrars.
She said that the residents in Anniston’s Ward 4 especially seem interested and active in voting. Incumbent Marcus Dunn is running against Millie Harris for this council position.
Besides the two City Council elections in Anniston and the one in Jacksonville, Hobson City, Ohatchee and Piedmont all have mayoral election runoffs, and Piedmont will also select three City Council members.