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In Plano, many register to vote, but few actually do
Thursday, May 8, 2008
By THEODORE KIM / The Dallas Morning News
Plano City Council member Shep Stahel has run unopposed twice this decade. He routed his only opponent in 2003, the year the city set a modern record for low voter turnout. The following year, turnout fell even lower, to just over 2 percent of registered voters.
Consider Mr. Stahel's path as evidence of the indifference that recently has defined Plano's elections.
"I used to say on the campaign trail: I'd love it if you vote for me. But even if you don't vote for me, vote for somebody," Mr. Stahel said.
The number of registered voters in Plano may have ballooned in the past two decades, but municipal voter turnout has not grown with it.
Many communities grapple with low turnout given that federal and state races often overshadow city campaigns, which come later in the year. Plano, in fact, had better turnout in the 2006 elections than neighboring Allen, Frisco, McKinney and Prosper.
But in contrast with neighboring cities, Plano has failed to attract more than 9 percent of registered voters in any municipal election since 1995, records show. Vote totals in Plano have showed signs of decline despite the presence of more than twice as many registered voters.
Observers say the numbers speak to a lack of any galvanizing citywide issues and an electorate too busy or content to care. The low participation, in turn, has allowed incumbents an easier path to re-election.
With four City Council seats up for re-election Saturday, a new wave of candidates hopes to dispel that apathy with what has emerged as Plano's most competitive campaign in years.
"For people to turn out, they have to care," said Justin Nichols, who faces Pat Miner for the Place 1 seat Mr. Stahel is vacating. "People are really starting to realize what a difference a city council makes."
Mr. Nichols and other candidates expect presidential primary enthusiasm to trickle down to the municipal contests. Fueled by that fervor, Collin County smashed turnout records in March.
But predictions of higher turnout on Saturday run counter to recent history.
"You're going to be lucky if 5 to 8 percent of voters vote," said former Plano Mayor James Muns.
Election day is Saturday. The polls are open from 7 AM to 7 PM.
You must vote in your neighborhood precinct polling place. A list of polling places is here.
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