Marblehead’s 2023 election saw highest turnout in years

Marblehead witnessed its highest voter participation in approximately a dozen years on June 20. Out of 16,315 registered voters, 6,613 cast their ballots, a 40.5% turnout — 4.5% higher than last year.

As the result of a 2019 Town Meeting warrant article, the annual town election was moved from May to June, and turnout has been up since the change took effect in 2020.

“My main motivation back in 2019 was to combine the two elections [voting to elect leaders and referendums on proposed Proposition 2 1/2 overrides] into one to increase voter turnout,” said Walter Horan, the sponsor of the warrant article. “So, I’m thrilled with the turnout.”

From the 1970s until 2019, Marblehead’s town elections took place a week after Town Meeting. If Town Meeting approved an override, a special election was held in June.

“During May elections, we would often hear voters ask, ‘where are the overrides?’” shared Horan,  who served as a registrar of voters for 15 years until earlier this year. “Then they’d ask, ‘What do you mean I have to come back and vote in June?’” 

More than office seekers, ballot questions have drawn Marblehead voters to the polls, election data between 2006 and 2019 show. On average, May elections saw a 20% turnout, while June special elections averaged 26.46%. However, since the consolidation of elections to June, turnout has seen a noticeable increase, averaging 33.5%.

Even before the change was made, Proposition 2 1/2 overrides tended to drive higher turnout, like in 2010, when 40.4% of registered voters came out to reject 10 override proposals, including a new Glover School, landfill closure and transfer station, Village School technology upgrades.

But the consolidated elections seem to be having their desired effect of driving consistently higher turnout.

Horan emphasized that merging the elections in June not only reduced costs but also arguably improved the odds for non-incumbents. 

“Before the move, there was a week between Town Meeting and the town election,” explained Horan. “By adding an additional five weeks, it allows challengers a better chance because they can campaign longer.”

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