Last Saturday, there were elections in 28 Louisiana parishes. Bossier City’s public safety property tax renewals were the only issue for consideration in Bossier Parish.
Of Bossier City’s 32,764 registered voters, 2,168 voted on the 8.45 mill renewal, while 2,153 cast ballots on renewal of the 2.75 mills.
About 6.6 percent of Bossier City voters decided an issue that allows the city to continue to collect these property taxes that contribute an estimated $7 million a year, for another 10 years, to Bossier City’s fire and police departments.
From the standpoint of renewal of the millages, this was a good election result.
But from the standpoint of voter turnout for what is essentially a $70 million consideration for voters, the participation outcome could have been better.
Several weeks ago in this space I suggested that this election was one of the better kept secrets recently, and that voter turnout was likely to reflect that circumstance.
Last Friday, in a pre-election visit with Bossier Parish Registrar of Voters Janet Burks, to review voter statistics and the result of early voting. Burks said that 54 voters participated in early voting at the Bossier Parish Courthouse.
Burks said she was “surprised there was so little interest” in this election, “I always say that your vote is your voice.”
On the other hand, she reported that of roughly 900 mail ballots to voters over 65 or handicapped voters, 558 of these voters had returned their ballots as of Friday afternoon.
Interestingly, this particular election provides a fair view of declining voter participation locally. In 1995, the election on these millages (at that time 10.47 and 3.4 mills) drew over 11,000 voters and about 70 percent of them favored the millages. The April 2004 election saw less than 3,000 voters participate to decide the same issue, which passed by nearly 60 percent of votes cast.
In last Saturday’s election, both renewals passed by better than 80 percent, but less than 2,200 of the city’s over 30,000 voters deciding the $70 million issue.
One of the reasons for such paltry participation is likely the absence of much in the way of information about the election. There was precious little media coverage before the election or reporting results after polls closed, so it’s quite possible that Bossier City voters didn’t even know that an election was scheduled for last Saturday.
That circumstance was an issue for my family at a dinner the day before the election when my sister pointed out that she wouldn’t have know there was a election but for the few yard signs she saw that encouraged a “yes” vote. She’s probably not alone in that observation.
And it’s supported by Mrs. Burks report that better than half of those who received the mailed ballots participated in the election.
Clearly, we need a better method to let voters know when an election is scheduled – and interested voters may want to make a better effort of searching out this information.
When less than 7 percent of voters make the decisions, we should all be worried.
Marty Carlson is a columnist for the BPT. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org