Low voter turnout common in years without presidential races, experts say

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Officials are expecting lower turnout in this year’s election, following a highly-contested presidential and senate race on the 2020 ballot.

More than 6,200 people voted before Election Day, either by mail or in person, according to the Chatham County Board of Registrars. Compare that number to last year, when 95,000 people voted early.

Experts said the change is dramatic, but not unexpected.

“People have a real fixation, if not a preference for presidents and voting in those races,” said Bruce Mallard, a political science professor at Savannah State University. “It even drops off as you get into Senate and Congress and so on, and it’s lowest when it gets to municipal elections.”

On Tuesday, officials at the Board of Elections said activity was slow across all precincts.

Mallard said the biggest driving factor in turnout is what’s on the ballot. He believes the local races matter just as much, if not more than, the national ones.

“These are important to everyday lives and so I do think it’s important to want good leaders in those offices,” he said. “So maybe we’re a little too quick to assume these are not nationwide offices, and therefore not as important.”

Voting advocates were on street corners across the county on Tuesday, trying to push more people to the polls.

“You have a voice. Let your voice be heard. Vote,” said Meka Simmons. “When you have different concerns about the budget being allocated and different things you need within your community, you have to vote. Not only a presidential level, you have to vote on a local level.”

While early voting turnout was significantly lower than last year’s, Mallard thinks more people may opt to cast their ballot in person this year.

“A lot of people voted through the mail last time because they were concerned about going into a big room full of people, handling materials that might have been a problem,” Mallard said. “Many people voted through the mail just because they wanted to avoid crowds. And I get the impression people aren’t as worried now.”

Officials at the Board of Election said they won’t know how many people voted in person on Tuesday until after the polls close at 7 p.m.

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