—Bryan Brooks – AmeriCorps VISTA, Community Development
This year, three city council seats were up for municipal election in Green River. Six candidates ran for those seats, with the three candidates receiving the highest number of votes winning the three seats. Kathy Ryan, Travis Bacon, and Penney Riches won those seats with 207, 188, and 168 votes, respectively.
For the first time, Green River conducted the election entirely by mail-in ballot. The city council elected for the switch based on evidence that mail-in only elections see higher voter turnout than traditional polling station elections. So did that hold true?
In the 2013 election, 184 of 452 registered voters participated. In 2015, 271 of 452 registered voters participated, a sizeable increase of 32%. It will prove interesting to see if this trend continues in future elections. After all, as correlation does not imply causation, the increase in participation could be due to multiple factors (e.g. controversial ballot items and/or number or candidates).
Let’s take a closer look at 2015’s election. Here’s a breakdown of the numbers: in 2015, there were 452 registered voters in Green River. Of those 452, 33 did not receive ballots as they were no longer in Green River, and 29 ballots were returned to the city as non-deliverable. Thus, a total of 390 ballots were received by Green River residents through the mail for the 2015 municipal election. Of those 390, 271 were returned to be counted toward the vote.
Based on the number of ballots received by residents and the number of ballots returned to the city, Green River had a voter turnout of 65%. Based on the number of people eligible to vote (regardless of whether they are registered) who live in Green River according to the 2010 census, that percentage goes down to 41%.
Those census numbers show that 663 Green River residents are of voting age. In 2015, 452 of those individuals are registered, which means that 32% of the voting-eligible population isn’t even registered. If the census estimate is accurate (which is not in many rural places), over half of the voting-age population of Green River did not vote in 2015.
This year, three city council seats were up for election. The difference between the numbers of votes given to the highest candidate versus given to the lowest candidate was 163 votes. If the 392 voter-eligible residents who didn’t vote this year had voted, the election outcome could have been completely different, or the elected officials could have won by an even greater margin. We’ll never know.
In the end, no matter how cliché it may sound, every vote matters, especially in a town as small as Green River. The switch to mail-in ballot may have indeed increased turnout, but with 59% of voter-eligible citizens still not voting, more work remains to be done.