Turnout in yesterday's Greensboro City Council election increased somewhat from two years ago. In 2009, 18.1 percent of registered voters went to the polls. This year: 20.7 percent. The number of ballots cast also increased, from 35,152 to 37,781.
Turnout this year also compares favorably to turnout in 2007, when Yvonne Johnson was elected mayor. That year, 20.1 percent of registered voters cast ballots.
The year 2009 was an anomaly in more than one way: Many political observers have noted that conditions were uniquely favorable to help elect a conservative council that year. Also, the voter rolls were bulging with people who registered to vote for Barack Obama in 2008, who didn't follow through in the city council election. The number of ballots cast actually went up from 2007 to 2009, but the inflated registration numbers statistically depressed the turnout percentage.
In the past two years, upwards of 11,000 people have been shed the rolls. I'm not sure of the reason for this. Perhaps those college students who registered to vote for Obama in 2008 graduated, moved away, and updated their registrations.
So what accounts for the dramatic reversal seen in last night's election results? Conservatives Bill Knight and Danny Thompson virtually came out of nowhere in 2009 to win the mayor and at-large seats respectively. Knight, Thompson and District 4 incumbent Mary Rakestraw were each replaced by challengers this year who are markedly more liberal.
It's probably too early to answer that question. But I'll hazard a guess: Different constituencies were mobilized this time around. In 2009, residents of the Cardinal miffed at being annexed against their will showed up. This time, it was citizens angry about the conservative faction's heavy-handed attempt to reopen the White Street Landfill. There was probably an enthusiasm gap at play also, with landfill opponents exercising the franchise as a matter of urgency. In contrast, the only reason conservative voters had to show up, aside from civic duty, was the vague threat of future tax and water rate increases if a more liberal council needs to finance big-ticket spending.
There's also the possibility that some former Knight and Thompson supporters may have been turned off by the dysfunction and bickering on council, and decided to give mayor-elect Robbie Perkins and former Mayor Yvonne Johnson a shot instead. But I'm guessing this is the less likely explanation.