School vacation may have impacted voter turnout
The special election for Senate District 27 is over after a relatively low number of voters headed to the polls. The question remains as to whether it was beneficial to hold an election during a week when students and parents alike are on vacation.
Republican Bob Kolenberg said the decision to hold the special election this week gave a window of opportunity to the competition because he was counting on a strong voter turnout from Darien -- which he did not receive.
"In order to win, you need a heavy turnout," Kolenberg said. "It gave the Democrats a competitive edge."
The Secretary of State's office said special elections normally are held within 127 to 150 days of when a seat is vacated, but state statute required Tuesday's special election to be held within 46 days.
"Any town which by charter provides that a vacancy in its legislative body shall be filled by a special election held no later than 45 days after the effective date of the vacancy shall hold such election not later than 45 days after the occurrence of the vacancy," the statute says.
When the decision was made to hold the special election during the week of school vacation, Kolenberg said his campaign focused on getting residents to fill out absentee ballots.
"People are very busy with their families and they forget to vote, especially during a special election like this one," Kolenberg said. "Most people think of November as election season and not February."
Kolenberg said he estimated about 15 percent of the voters would go to the polls on Tuesday but was surprised that so few actually voted.
Out of the 4,100 eligible voters in the two Darien districts, only 704 -- or 17 percent -- voted in Tuesday's special election. Democratic Registrar of Voters Tom Dunn said the town was prepared to handle 40 percent turnout but expected no more than 20 or 25 percent would vote.
Kolenberg said he remembered previous special elections in other towns that ran into similar problems with getting residents to the polls. He acknowledged the election was hampered by school vacation because many Darien families were gone.
"We definitely anticipated more votes out of Darien," Kolenberg said. "It's too bad because a good percentage of the state budget is paid by Darien taxpayers and many of them didn't get a chance to vote," Kolenberg said. "I don't think it was entirely fair."
Kolenberg lost to Democrat Carlos Leone by a final tally of 4,517 votes to 3,725.
Leone did not return a call for comment as of press time.
Democratic Town Committee Chairman John Davis said he didn't believe holding the election next week would have made much of a difference. However, he did say that it probably would have been better to wait until next week.
"I think the results would have been the same," Davis said. "He [Leone] won by such a large margin it wouldn't have mattered."
Even though many people were away on vacation this week, Davis said they still had the opportunity to vote by absentee ballot.