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Candidate hopes young voters head to the polls

Voter turnout for previous municipal elections

2011: 39.56%

2009: 35.6%

2007: 45.7%

2005: 47.6%

2003: 49.9%

WALLINGFORD — In local elections, turnout for younger voters has historically been low. The Democratic mayoral candidate wonders if a larger turnout of younger voters this year would it have a significant impact on the mayoral race.

During Wallingford’s last municipal election, in 2011, there were 24,731 registered voters, according to the Connecticut Secretary of State’s website. Of those registered, only 9,783 came out to the polls — a turnout of 39.56 percent. During the 2011 elections, Vincent F. Testa ran against Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr., the Republican incumbent. Dickinson won with 6,210 votes, against Testa’s 3,551 votes.

This year, Jason Zandri, a Democratic town councilor, is running against Dickinson. As part of his campaign, Zandri has made a push to increase voter turnout, particularly with younger voters. He created a flier, the “Wallingford Extra,” to educate residents on a variety of issues, including the tax rate and low voter turnout.

On Tuesday, he described how voter turnout in town has “steadily decreased,” and his desire to see the overall voter turnout reach 50 percent. The last time the voter turnout for a municipal election was close to 50 percent was in 2003, when 12,389 out of 24,825 voters showed up at the polls — a 49.9 percent turnout.

Though the number of younger voters showing up to vote during municipal elections isn’t as high as it could be, Zandri acknowledged Wallingford isn’t alone in experiencing the situation.

“Overall, we’re not unique in our apathy of younger voters. I think it happens everywhere,” Zandri said. “We need to address that and try to change that. If what the voters are saying is they want openness and transparency, then they need to demand it. They need to show up to get it.”

Zandri believes the “voter apathy” among younger voters stems from a “disconnect from local elections” and the misconception that a municipal election won’t have as great of an impact on them as a presidential election.

“The opposite of that is true,” Zandri emphasized. “You become a voice in 150 million, but locally, you’re one voice in 10,000. It impacts schools, local taxes and services, and some people (forget) that.”

Arthur Paulson, the Political Science department chairmen at Southern Connecticut State University, said it’s “normal” to have a lower younger voter turnout. The exception to that rule, Paulson added, occurred during the 2008 presidential election when President Barack Obama was elected for his first term.

“Sometimes a focused campaign plus an attractive candidate might alter that a little bit,” Paulson said.

During campaigning, Zandri said he made an effort to reach out the younger voters in person when going door-to-door. He would ask residents if they had any children of voting age and ask to speak to them.

But to have an effective impact on younger voters, Zandri also focuses his campaign where many young adults can be found — the Internet. With a blog and a strong presence on social media, Zandri said he’s reaching voters “where they live.”

While he acknowledged there is a lower turnout among younger voters, Dickinson said he focuses on all voters while campaigning.

“You try to include all voters in your message,” Dickinson said. “You don’t target one group versus another.”

“We make an effort to find registered voters and contact them with information.”

Because Zandri’s an employee in the IT field and has made technology a primary focus of his campaign, he believes he has the younger voters on his side. It’s the group of voters who have grown up with computers and with the Internet, Zandri said. While he believes this year’s mayoral race will be close, he admitted he’s confident that he could win if there’s a larger turnout among younger voters.

“If the younger voters turn out, then this would be less than a tight race,” he said. “... The turnout last year was 39 percent. If 10 percent show back up and it gets closer to 50 percent ... I believe the majority of them would come to support me.”

But Paulson believes otherwise.

“I don’t think the change in voter turnout among younger voters alone is going to tip the balance,” he said. “There would have to be other problems, (such as) a general discontent in Wallingford with taxes.

“And if that discontent is contributed to the mayor or to the Republicans on Town Council then that could create a problem.”

That “general discontent,” Paulson added, has to be large enough to make the mayoral race a close race from the beginning.

Otherwise, he believes a strong voter turnout among younger voters won’t have an impact on the results.

Paulson reviewed the results of the 2011 municipal election and noted the large margin Dickinson won by. Questioning how “popular” Zandri was among residents, he said that beating Dickinson may not be so easy unless there was a pressing issue that wasn’t addressed during his present term.

“There would have to be some factor out there that is making this into a close election in the first place,” he said. “If it appears to be a close election, then a greater turnout among younger voters may make the difference.”

When asked how a stronger younger voter turnout could impact the mayoral race, Dickinson simply said every vote matters.

“Every vote has an impact ... Every vote cast will impact what occurs,” he said. “Trying to decide whether one age range supports a candidate or another candidate is extremely suspect. You just never know.” (203) 317-2235 Twitter: @EricVoRJ

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