The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

April 3, 2013

Local voter turnouts dip; record low set in Newton County

By Susan Redden

— Of the nearly 40,000 Jasper County voters who had something on which to vote in Tuesday’s city and school elections, 3,333 showed up at the polls. That makes the turnout for the April election one of the lowest on record.

Voter turnout was 8.34 percent in Jasper County. It was lower in Newton County, at 7.84 percent.

By contrast, nearly 28 percent of the eligible voters in Lawrence County went to the polls, and in Crawford County, Kan., turnout was nearly 18 percent.

Bonnie Earl, Jasper County clerk, on Wednesday said the turnout was close to a record low for a spring election. According to records maintained by Earl’s office starting in 2000, the low turnout for an April vote was 6.95 percent in 2011.

The low turnout did set a record in Newton County, according to Kay Baum, county clerk.

“We’ve had some at 8 percent before, but this is the first time it’s ever been below that,” she said.

There were no Joplin elections for City Council or school board seats, and Joplin voters were not included in the voter turnout calculations, Earl said.

Nearly half of Jasper County’s votes — 49 percent — were cast in the Webb City School District. There, just over 1,600 voters turned out to give 79 percent approval to a $9 million school bond issue for construction projects to include safe rooms.

“It’s disappointing that there is so little interest,” Earl said. “That has to be frustrating for the cities and schools; it’s the entities that have questions on the ballot that share the election costs.”

Generally in Jasper County, races were limited. Many candidates ran without opposition, and there were few issues or races that were hotly contested.

That was not the case in Lawrence County, where the turnout was just shy of 28 percent. Voters filled a Missouri House seat in a special legislative election, in which Mike Moon defeated Charles Dake. The winner, a Republican, replaces Don Ruzicka as 157th District representative; Ruzicka resigned after being appointed to the Missouri Board of Probation and Parole.

The legislative race was not the only attraction, according to Kim Rinker, a deputy in the Lawrence County clerk’s office.

“There was also a city issue in Mount Vernon, two school bond issues and a couple of fire districts organizing,” she said. “There also were some races that were very competitive.”

Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander said Wednesday that a legislative proposal he supports to allow early voting could boost voter turnout by making it more convenient for residents to vote if they cannot get to the polls on election days.

“It’s important for all eligible voters to have the opportunity to take part in the decision-making that affects their communities, and, as Missouri’s chief elections official, I encourage all eligible Missourians to cast a ballot in their local elections,” Kander said in a statement. “The bipartisan early voting legislation I proposed with Rep. Myron Neth would create greater access to the ballot box for all eligible Missourians. The Legislature needs to give this common-sense measure a fair up or down vote this legislation session.”

House Bill 848

REP. MYRON NETH’S BILL on early voting was introduced March 12. The measure was referred to the Missouri House Elections Committee on March 28.