CHESHIRE — Fewer than half of the town's registered voters turned out for Tuesday's municipal election — a race in which Republicans increased their majority on the Town Council and tilted the balance of power on the Board of Education in their favor.
State-reported voter turnout figures show 7,428 voters cast ballots, deciding membership of the council and school board as well as other town boards and commissions. There were also seven ballot questions.
The figure represents 38.5% of the town's total voter population of 19,274.
The number also shows more voters turned out on Nov. 5 than had turned out in 2017 – when 6,620 registered voters cast ballots.
Registered voters unaffiliated with any political party number 8,629, representing the largest share among the town’s electorate. By comparison, 4,895 voters registered as Republicans and 5,405 are registered as Democrats, according to the Voter Registrar's office.
Whether unaffiliated voters swayed election results last week is difficult to say, as the only information poll workers have about voters when they arrive at polling places is their name and address, explained Tom Smith, Cheshire's Democratic Registrar of Voters.
Gary Rosenberg, spokesman for Secretary of State Denise W. Merrill, said it’s difficult to assess the average turnout statewide for “165 completely separate local elections.”
Even contrasting turnout for municipal elections in similarly-sized towns like Sprague, with 1,906 registered voters, and Sterling, with 2,556 voters, is like comparing apples and oranges, Rosenberg said.
In Sterling, just over 11% of registered voters cast ballots. In Sprague, meanwhile, more than 55% of registered voters participated in the election.
Cheshire Republican Town Committee Chairman Guy Darter said the party, in its messaging, targeted voters of all affiliations.
“We go after everybody,” Darter said. “Local campaigns are not like a national campaign.”
Officials did not tally voter participation by party affiliation, so a true number or estimate for how many unaffiliated voters leaned toward Republican-nominated candidates cannot be quantified.
Darter, who was defeated in his personal bid for the Town Council's Second District seat, thinks his party may have won over a good number of politically unaffiliated voters through strong messaging.
“...Overall I think we did phenomenal, especially on the Board of Ed,” he said. “We had great candidates. Our messaging was spot on. People are so frustrated, they didn't want the status quo. They wanted new faces and new ideas.”
Taking seven seats on the Town Council, he said, “was a very nice surprise.”
Democratic Town Council candidate Jeffrey Falk, who was defeated in his bid for re-election to the council's Third District seat, seemed to agree with Darter, saying, “In town, yes, the unaffiliated voters are the ones who essentially determine a lot of stuff.”
Falk suggested the Democratic Town Committee will need to go over the input it has received from voters throughout this past campaign “so we can better prepare for the next election.”
Despite the outcome, Falk said he was pleased by the turnout.
“I'm very happy people came out to vote,” he said.