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Registrar says turnout lowest in years

Voters handed apathy a mandate on Tuesday.

The 2007 municipal elections in Clark County had the lowest turnout in recent memory, according to Larry Lomax, the Clark County registrar of voters who has held that post for a decade.

Just 11.6 percent of the 245,000 voters who could participate actually did.

That is compared to 12.1 percent who voted in 2005; 13.4 percent in 2003; and 14.1 percent in 2001.

This year’s turnout would have been lower if not for Boulder City and Mesquite, which each had competitive mayoral races.

The bulk of Tuesday’s eligible voters in Clark County live in the city of Las Vegas. In areas of Las Vegas outside Ward 5, which had a competitive City Council race, turnout was well below 10 percent.

Most Las Vegas voters only had a municipal court judge to pick.

At Shadow Hills Baptist Church, a polling spot for a number of precincts, election workers read newspapers and daydreamed Tuesday afternoon, and did not at first notice a lone voter.

At Veterans Memorial Leisure Services Center, in Summerlin, poll workers had pulled out a television and were watching a Western.

Many blamed the low turnout on the fact that most voters only had the judicial race on their ballot.

Gary Gray, a political consultant who ran the campaigns of Las Vegas City Council candidate Stacie Truesdell and Las Vegas Municipal Court judge candidate Martin Hastings, pointed out that in even-numbered election years, voters choose leaders at the county, state and federal levels.

“Most of us don’t go to the department store if you just need socks. You wait until you need trousers and a shirt also,” Gray said. “There are two races this year, versus 40 races in even years.”

Knight Allen, a community activist and government watchdog, said the lack of participation in the municipal races sends the wrong message to politicians.

“In effect, what the public is saying to the politicians is, ‘Go ahead and keep doing what you’ve been doing. We’re not so concerned about it,’ ” he said.

April’s primary election, which had 15 percent turnout, had more candidates on the ballot, including Las Vegas mayor, a contested Ward 1 Las Vegas City Council seat and a competitive council race in Henderson.

Those elections, though, were decided in the primary, and the candidates did not have to face off in Tuesday’s election.

Michael McDonald, a former Las Vegas councilman, said voters could also be turned off when candidates start slinging mud. Turning a race negative in order to suppress voter turnout is sometimes used as a campaign tactic, McDonald said.

“You have some people who are always motivated to vote, some people kind of lukewarm to the process. And then there are people frustrated with the entire process. There are lies — he said, she said. That keeps a lot of people away from polls,” McDonald said.

But some voters always vote, out of a sense of civic duty.

“Most people forget there is an election,” said Kenneth Scholl, a 20-year Las Vegas resident who was voting with his wife Toni on Tuesday.

He could only pick a judicial candidate, but said he knew one of the candidates and felt obligated to cast his ballot.

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