Voter turnout in the 2019 municipal election was greater than it had been in previous years. In 2019, 10,793 people came out to vote, or 36.68% of eligible voters. Compared to recent municipal elections, in 2017, 9,819 people voted (35.12%); in 2015, 8,836 people voted (36.13%); and in 2013, 8,749 people voted (33.88%).
It is clear that more people are choosing to exercise their right to vote each year in Southington, but who is really coming out to vote? In the most recent election, Republicans swept the boards, coming out with supermajorities on almost every board, albeit a simple majority on the board of finance.
One would think that Republican voters came out in high numbers in order to get results like that. That is not quite what happened in 2019.
Based on an election summary report from the registrar’s office, more Democratic voters came out on Election Day than Republican voters. A total of 3,365 Republican voters came out, versus a total of 3,523 Democratic voters. But the number of unaffiliated voters (3,315) matched both parties Election Day, and that’s where the result was decided. In 2019, those unaffiliated voters seemed to lean strongly toward Republicans.
“It appears to be that the unaffiliated vote was the reason why we had the outcome we did,” said Southington Democratic Town Committee chair Bob Berkmoes. “It seems like the Democrats did get their message out to the Democratic voters. I think the question is not ‘what did the unaffiliated voters miss,’ but ‘what did we miss?’”
Berkmoes said the goal of every election is to reach as many people as possible with the Democratic message.
“All voters are important to us. It’s very important that our party gets our message out and that they see what we’re doing and understand it,” said Berkmoes. “That goes for all voters—Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated. And, it’s important not only around election time, but we’ve got to make sure the message is out there all year round.”
The chair also pointed out that, in a small town like Southington, often times people pay attention to the individual candidates and what their personal message to voters is, rather than pledging allegiance to one party down the line.
“I think we ran a very good campaign. There wasn’t mudslinging or anything like that, which I think is important especially in a community like this,” he said. “We want to show what we can do for the community.”
Berkmoes called on a quote from John F. Kennedy which states, “Let’s not seek a Republican answer or a Democratic answer, but the right answer,” and said that is what the party hopes to convey.
Southington Republican Town Committee chair Steve Kalkowski said the GOP message was powerful in the last election, and that helped get the message across to not only registered Republicans in town, but the unaffiliated voters, too.
“We believe that we won a supermajority because our citizens wanted a change in leadership,” he said. “We ran a tremendously strong slate of candidates, all strong leaders in their own right, and people who have demonstrated their concern for our town and all citizens historically.”
He pointed out specifically that economic development and the acquisition of open space were important topics that Republican candidates pushed for.
“Both of these critical initiatives are the responsibility of the council,” said Kalkowski. “We proved that we knew how to manage these over the eight years previous to the Democrats’ council majority.”
Kalkowski said a number of state government issues played a role in voters’ decisions in the local election. Increase in taxes, talk of tolls, and “zero desire to cut expenses” may have brought unaffiliated voters over to the Republican message, he said.
The SRTC began planning for the November election back in May of 2019, and established a campaign strategy which included lawn signs, mailings and social media. Kalkowski said he was proud of that strategy, along with the candidates who pushed their message out.
“My job as a chairman is much easier with such a strong team behind me,” said Kalkowski.
With the 2019 municipal election put to rest, voters now turn their focus to the upcoming election, which includes a presidential election along with local state officials. The registrars’ office is informing voters that Jan. 28 is the cutoff date to declare or change parties in order to vote in the primary election on April 28.
“Many people do not understand that independent and independence are parties not unaffiliated who can register up to five days before Election Day,” said Republican registrar Mike Early.
The registrars’ office is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and is located in the town hall at 75 Main St. For more information, call (860) 276-6268.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Roy, email her at SRoy@SouthingtonObserver.com.