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Three Uncontested Races Could Mean Low Voter Turnout — Again

Only spike in turnout in recent history occurred when two University of Maryland students took on an incumbent and future mayor.

An average 11 percent of registered voters have turned out to vote in College Park over the last six elections, and with three of five races uncontested this year, Tuesday's election could be the same story.

“It will be low,” said Jack Robson, chief of the Board of Election Supervisors. “My guess will be 6 to 7 percent in the uncontested races.”

His estimate is consistent with recent history. The average voter turnout for uncontested district races over the past six elections was 6 percent.

on Nov. 8, Election Day. The mayoral race is uncontested as well, as it has been for every election for the past 20 years.

One sharp peak in turnout stands out in recent history: The District 3 race in 2001 jumped to 30.7 percent, sandwiched between 9.4 percent in 1999 and 8.4 percent in 2003.

What happened that year was a battle between students and residents, when candidates Mike Mann and Daniel Dorfman took on a crusade to infuse the council with a student voice.

But, “it was not a bitter election [like] we’re used to in American politics today,” said Mann, who was a University of Maryland junior in 2001.

If not bitter, then it was aggressive. Mann and Dorfman knocked on doors on Frat Row, the Knox Box area and other housing in District 3, to register about 700 new voters, most of them students.

They also knocked on doors on Election Day, to encourage people to go to the polls.

“We thought we did a very good job of voter turnout. We were proud of the numbers that we had,” Mann said.

Mann and Dorfman were up against incumbent Eric Olson and , now a county councilman and College Park mayor, respectively.

“They worked hard and Andy and I did as well,” Olson said in an e-mail. “Andy and I (and our supporters) worked very hard to get the word out and to get voters to turn out.”

The next year, District 3 was uncontested, and voter turnout sunk again.

Robson said it’s not just College Park that has had poor voter turnout numbers over the years, and that he’s seen the same trend in other municipalities.

Take Laurel, where voter turnout had fallen steadily from 11 percent in 2000 to 7 percent in 2009, according to the Gazette. In May, only , and in , though every race in both towns were uncontested.

Greenbelters boasted a 19.8 percent voter turnout two years ago, according to the Greenbelt News Review.

Though College Park voter turnout was more than 9 percentage points fewer in that same year, Olson and Robson both said the College Park voter turnout numbers could be misleading, because former students might still be registered, but no longer reside in College Park.

“I would also say that as you look at turnout, that the turnout percentage is actually higher than the stated percentages (across the city, but particularly in District 3),” Olson said.

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