Voters hard to find at most precincts

Races that included municipal and school board seats didn't get people to the polls

Staff WriterOctober 12, 2005 

They threw an election party, but only a few voters came.

In fact, of those who could have voted in Tuesday's elections and primaries in the Triangle, just shy of 11 percent did.

In Wake County, with contested Raleigh and Cary council races as well as school board seats and a Raleigh mayor's race, 45,628 voters cast ballots. That's not counting provisional ballots to be tallied later for final numbers.

The story was similar in Durham, with 12,931 votes cast in hot primaries for mayor and other city council seats.

"It's lower than normal for municipal," said Wake Elections Director Cherie Poucher. "It probably had a lot to do with so many of the uncontested races and many times, people get accustomed to voting in November."

About 20 minutes before polls closed, Poucher had hoped for a large "after-work" turnout.

During the day Tuesday, Durham County Elections Director Mike Ashe called participation "lousy."

"There have been long gaps between voters coming through the door. It's sad," Ashe said. "I don't understand what people have to do today that is more important than spending a couple minutes to help choose our leaders."

Tuesday's ballots didn't feature any major races for national or state offices such as president, governor or Congress. This year is the time for municipal and school board elections, and Tuesday was the first of two election days scheduled for Triangle communities this fall.

Some places, such as Raleigh and Cary, held municipal elections. Four of nine Wake school board seats were up for election. Primaries for the Durham City Council races were held.

The general Durham elections will take place Nov. 8. That's also when municipal elections will take place for most Wake County towns, as well as those in Orange, Chatham and Johnston counties.

Dan Le cast his ballot late Tuesday at Raleigh's Green Road Park community center.

"It just sort of felt like it was the right thing to do. It's part of democracy and all," said Le, 20, a Raleigh college student. "My family comes from Vietnam, so it's like a special thing -- something to be cherished."

Green Road Voter No. 117, Helen Reaves, almost forgot to vote while caring for her daughter's dog.

"It's your civic duty," said Reaves, 79, using her cane to leave Green Road Park community center.

Then she turned to politics across the Triangle. She said of all Tuesday's contests, she was most curious about the Durham mayoral race and candidate Jackie Wagstaff. "I vote every time. You're supposed to because you don't have anything to say if you don't vote."

Guy Mendenhall, a chief judge for 12 years at his Cary precinct, said he didn't expect blockbuster turnout.

"In this particular precinct, we always seem to do real well because this is a voting precinct," he said, heading out the door to assist a curbside voter.

By 3:30 p.m. inside the White Plains United Methodist Church Annex, turnout reached double-digits -- more than 11 percent of the precinct -- with 346 votes, including absentee ballots.

The flow was steady all day, inching up about 1 percent of the precinct's 2,900 voters every hour. Voters there considered Cary council and a school board race.

In both counties, the obligatory clutter of yard signs and lawn chairs sprouted near the entrances to polling places.

Business was brisk all day at Millbrook Exchange Center, one of the precincts in Raleigh's City Council District A in which Paul Anderson and Tommy Craven were competing for a seat being vacated by incumbent Mike Regan, who is not seeking re-election.

Things were picking up as rush-hour traffic headed back toward the neighborhoods.

Of that North Raleigh precinct's 2,900 voters, more than 400 had voted by 5 p.m.

In Durham, election worker Glenn Smith sat resting his elbows on the table in front of a half-eaten package of Fig Newtons at Lowe's Grove Middle School in South Durham, biding his time until the polls closed.

With an hour left, just 53 voters had turned in their ballots.

"The most we've had at one time is five people," Smith said.

White Rock Baptist Church fared slightly better, with 248 casting their ballots with 30 minutes left to vote.

"This is about normal for a primary," said Durlin Hayes, chief precinct judge. "People don't come out too well."

(Staff writers Nikole Hannah-Jones and Michael Biesecker contributed to this report.)

Staff writer Cindy George can be reached at 829-4656 or cgeorge@newsobserver.com.

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