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Published: Saturday, 9/13/2003

The voters take a powder

A low turnout in Tuesday's municipal primary election clearly was anticipated, but 6.5 percent is so close to the bottom of the democratic barrel that Toledoans who were eligible to vote but didn't ought to be ashamed of themselves.

How low can voter participation go? In one precinct with 222 registered voters, not a single person cast a ballot. Zero, zip, nada.

The final turnout statistics were 6.4 percent in City Council District 3; 4.5 percent in District 4, and 8.2 percent in District 6, for an overall average of 6.5 percent. Unbelievable.

While contests were on the ballot in only half the City Council districts, the vast majority of the 85,858 eligible voters missed an opportunity to try out the new touch-screen voting devices being used for the first time.

The municipal primary, which narrowed the field of candidates for the Nov. 4 general election, was supposed to be a trial run for the state-of-the-art electronic machines.

But for some inexplicable reason, precinct officials actually encouraged voters to mark paper ballots to be counted by optical scanners. It should have been evident to pollworkers that long lines weren't going to be a problem.

As a result, even the meager number of voters who did manage to make it to the polls never got a chance to familiarize themselves with the new machines.

The low turnout also casts doubt on the notion that Toledo's new ban on smoking in public places might have been a call to action for those so upset by the change that they are determined to oust incumbent council members, all of whom voted for it.

The lack of any significant backlash indicates what we have argued all along - that the vast majority of Toledoans are pleased that they no longer are forced to inhale second-hand tobacco smoke in restaurants, bars, bowling establishments, and bingo halls.

If the disgruntled restaurant and bar owners who are threatening a referendum on the ban are at all paying attention, they will drop their ill-conceived plan. It won't fly, whether voter turnout is low or high.

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