HAMMOND – Town Democratic and Republican party leaders say the wind development-related controversy and a poor economy have been a boon to voter registration in Hammond.
Since 2007 when wind began its ascension to the forefront of Hammond politics, the town, with a population of 1,282, has had 207 newly registered voters and a large increase in voter participation.
Town Democratic Party chairman Crayton L. Buck said the rise in voters can be attributed to people who wanted to have a say in the town’s future.
“People are encouraging their friends and family to vote,” he said. “I think both parties (Democratic and Republican) have increased their efforts to get people registered and voting.”
Republican chairwoman Erica C. Demick agreed. She said, aside from the wind issue, economic development and taxes are issues that continue to draw voters to the polls.
“Hammond has a lot of issues, but I think that people want to get involved, and the only way to get involved is to vote,” she said.
While the increase in new voters comes from a diverse geographical portion of the town, Mr. Buck said he believes many of the voters who registered over the past few years are seasonal residents who live in the town for only a few weeks or months of the year.
While it is legal for property owners to register in any town they claim as their permanent residence, so long as they own property there, Mr. Buck said he doesn’t think it’s the right thing to do.
“When someone only spends two weeks here in the summertime and they cast their vote here, I don’t think it’s very fair,” he said.
Mr. Buck said he believes the seasonal residents swung the vote in 2009, when Democratic incumbents Ronald E. Tulley and Janie G. Hollister were voted out of office.
However, only 31 absentee ballots were cast in 2009 and records from the board of elections showed Republican Ronald W. Bertram beating his opponent, Mrs. Hollister, in the race for town supervisor 362 to 265, a difference of 97 votes. In the race for council seats the smallest gap was between James R. Tague, who received 383 votes and Mr. Tulley, who received 240 votes, a difference of 143 votes.
It is possible for seasonal residents to cast their votes in Hammond, but according to documents obtained through the county board of elections only 53 newly registered voters since 2007 had previous or current mailing addresses listed outside of the township. Previous addresses were not available for all voters.
Ms. Demick said she does not believe seasonal residents have played a large role in recent elections. She also stated that seasonal residents have the same right to vote in town elections as any property owner or resident.
“I think anybody who lives in Hammond – pays taxes in Hammond – should not be put in a different light. Everyone has the right to vote,” she said.
Seasonal or non-seasonal residents aside, it is certain both voter registration and turnout are increasing in the town. In 2007, 338 voters decided the election. In 2009 that number rose to 628.
“I think we had around 85 percent of our registered voters turn out in 2009. In this year’s Republican primary, we had almost 50 percent, and I think that is great,” Ms. Demick said. “I am glad people are going out and exercising that right.”
Mr. Buck said he is also excited to see residents throughout the town, regardless of the party, cast their votes.
“I think it’s a good sign when you have an increased number people voting. I am old fashioned. I think everyone should vote. I signed up the day I was 21 and I’ve only missed one election since,” he said.
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