Voter Turnout Lowest in Eight Years for March Election

Derry Town Moderator Margaret Ives couldn’t help being facetious as she reviewed the voter turnout Tuesday, March 11, at Calvary Bible Church, the District 2 polling place. “Did you have trouble finding a place to park?” she asked. “Did you have to walk far?”

The answer was “no” and “no,” as Ives and her staff reported a lower-than-usual turnout in the March 11 voting. The total votes cast were 1,257, or 6 percent of Derry’s 20,139 registered voters.

At Ives’s post in District 2, ballot clerks knitted or chatted, and there were no lines to wait in as voters wandered in during the afternoon. “Just put in one at a time,” Ives said to a lone man at the voting machine. He did, and left. 

There was no “morning rush” this year, Supervisor of the Checklist Lorraine Routhier said at her station, Gilbert H. Hood Middle School, home of District 4 voters.

Routhier, who has worked the polls since 1952 and is completing her late husband, Roland’s, term as Supervisor, said the turnout was “average” for a March town election.

But those are the ones people should be voting in, Routhier added, because it directly affects their taxes and their schools, safety and the potholes in their roads. “Don’t complain if you don’t participate,” Routhier said. “This is our most important election, the one that affects all of us.

At Pinkerton Academy, voting site for Districts 1 and 3, Renee Routhier, chairman of the Supervisors and Lorraine and Roland’s daughter, handed out pizza to her staff and the ballot clerks. She had six new registrations and three changes of address, she said, but other than that, things were slow.

But several candidates still said it was important to stand outside with signs. Joshua Bourdon, unopposed candidate for Town Councilor at Large, and Marc Flattes, who came in second to David Fischer for the Council seat in District 3, campaigned till the last minute in front of the Pinkerton gym. John O’Connor held a sign for his neighbor Fischer.

“There’s a lot on the line here,” Flattes said. “We do what needs to be done.”

Flattes had counted approximately 200 voters by 1 p.m., or approximately 40 per hour. It was a varied crowd, he said, adding, “Some want to stop and talk, some just came and went.”

Bourdon said he was “a little nervous” about his first time at the polls. “But I’m honored and privileged to take part in the race,” he added. “I’m excited and hopeful for Derry.”

Though he had no opposition, Bourdon still said it was worth it to be on the front lines. He ran after one voter and handed him his card. “I want people to feel free to call me,” he said. “I am giving this my all.”

Ives said the determination wasn’t limited to Council candidates. Janet Bhagat, who ran for a seat on the Supervisors of the Checklist, was at the District 2 site early in the morning with her sign, in the cold, and stayed until early afternoon.

After the election, Town Council Chairman Michael Fairbanks called the turnout “downright pitiful.”

He said he didn’t know what the answer was to get people out to vote. “I wish there was an answer,” he said.

“If you want to complain, you should get out and vote,” Fairbanks said.

Ives, who ran unopposed for her next term as Town Moderator, still put in an appearance at the Derry Cable Television Candidate Forum in February, in order to get out the word about voting.

Reached by phone after the election, she said she and Town Clerk Denise Neale went back through the records. Though they only examined eight years of records, they discovered that the March 11 turnout was the lowest for a March town election in those eight years.

While some towns blame the SB2 style of government for lack of interest, Ives said she didn’t think that was a factor in Derry. She’s observed that when three Council seats are up, there’s a higher participation, and when two seats are up and both are contested, that raises interest. This year only one Council race was contested, the other filled by an unopposed candidate.

She also wondered if the recent friction on the last Town Council discouraged people from participating.

A friend from church told Ives she was upset with the lack of interest, and hoped that the younger people would do better.

Ives agreed, noting that elderly people were the mainstay of town voting, often coming in even when it was difficult to walk.

“I want to see that same determination in other ages,” Ives said.