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Towns likely to keep elections in May

By Alex Bridges

Town elections in Shenandoah County likely won't move to November despite low voter turnout even in contested races.

Voter turnout in the Tuesday elections varied from as low as 3.4 percent in Woodstock to 24 percent in Mount Jackson. None of the races in the Woodstock election were contested whereas Mount Jackson had multiple candidates running for mayor and town council.

But in Strasburg, where five people ran for four seats, had a turnout of 8.2 percent. Turnout in New Market's election, in which four people vied for three seats, was 13.3 percent. None of the races in Edinburg were contested and voter turnout was 6.6 percent.

Edinburg Mayor Daniel Harsman, who ran unopposed for another term, said Thursday that moving elections to November has been discussed but never pursued.

"I personally don't like the idea only because I think that town elections would end up getting lost," Harshman said.

Town voters use the Edinburg fire station, as do those registered in the encompassing Madison district, Harshman noted. Not all voters in the Madison district could vote in town races. Woodstock Mayor Jeremy McCleary, who won re-election in an uncontested race, echoed Harshman's concerns about the confusion voters may experience.

Shenandoah County General Registrar Lisa McDonald said Wednesday that turnout seemed normal for the May contest but acknowledged the varied percentages among the different town elections.

McDonald said she would expect turnout to increase if towns held elections in November, especially if contests coincided with a presidential race. State and national races could overshadow local elections, McDonald added.

Shenandoah County's six towns probably would need to move their local elections at the same time to make sure the cost to hold contests remained divided up evenly, McDonald said. McDonald explained that town elections likely would cost less if moved to November but she wouldn't know that for certain unless the towns made the switch and she could look at the data.

Front Royal leaders moved the town's council and mayoral elections from May to November of the even-numbered years beginning this year. The decision came after extensive discussions and public input sessions on the matter. Cost and turnout stood out as reasons for the switch though some councilmen said they were concerned that a national race could overshadow their local contest.

Middletown and Stephens City moved their town council and mayoral elections from May to November in 2011. Data provided by Frederick County General Registrar Rick Miller show that the cost to run elections in the two towns varied depending on the year. For example, in Middletown, the May 2008 election, with a turnout of 34.65 percent, cost $2,400 or $9.45 per vote; the May 2010 election had a turnout of 26.23 percent and cost $3,208 or $16.20 per vote. The town's election held Nov. 2012 - a presidential election year -- had a turnout of 61.34 percent cost $2,126 or $3.93 per vote.

Stephens City saw its voter turnout rise and costs drop significantly once the town moved elections to November, according to information from Miller. The May 2008 election, with a turnout of 2.79 percent, cost $2,198 or $87.92 per vote. The May 2010 election had a turnout of 3.72 percent and cost $3,215 or $84.62 per vote. By contrast, the Nov. 2012 election had a turnout of 61.34 percent and cost $1,918 or $2.58 per vote.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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