Low turnout expected for Tuesday’s municipal elections

The fact that a tiny fraction of residents will install the newest crop of local politicians may not bode well for representative democracy.

On the bright side, people who do plan to vote won’t have to wait long in line.

Municipal voters are scheduled to go to the polls today in Las Vegas, Henderson, North Las Vegas and Mesquite.

If early voting results are any indication, very few of them will.

Turnout barely cracked 5 percent in some of the hottest local races despite hundreds of thousands of dollars in spending by candidates.

In North Las Vegas, incumbent Mayor Shari Buck and former state Sen. John Lee have raised more than $200,000 in cash contributions combined in pursuit of the mayoral seat, but only 5.4 percent of registered voters cast ballots in early voting citywide.

Likewise, in Ward 6 in northwest Las Vegas, incumbent Councilman Steve Ross has raised $238,054 in cash contributions to fend off challengers Suzette LaGrange, who raised $100,218, and Paul Rodriguez, who raised $5,000. Early voting turnout there was 4.5 percent.

In Henderson, where incumbent Mayor Andy Hafen has raised $105,000 since Jan. 1 for his campaign against several challengers, citywide turnout for early voting was 6.4 percent.

The irony of low turnout in municipal elections is that races decided on the local level can have the highest stakes for individual voters.

Local governments raise and spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually, and council leadership is decided in races where just a few thousand people vote.

“They are extremely important. It gives the people a chance to voice an opinion about the decisions that are closest to home,” said Mark Peplowski, a political science professor at the College of Southern Nevada. “I almost think it would be good if people had the chance to see just how much money is at stake in a city.”

Then again, when it comes to voting, more people isn’t always better, said Chuck Muth, a conservative political consultant.

Muth said municipal races tend to turn on the decisions of voters who pay close attention to the candidates and the issues.

“I think turnout being low is fine,” Muth said. “People who are voting in these off-year elections are probably people who have a true interest in the race.”

As for the 90 percent or so of voters who skip municipal races?

“They are probably all doing us a favor staying home rather than casting an uninformed vote,” Muth said.

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0285.

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