If the past five special elections are a guide, Democrats will need to muster about 10,000 votes to win tomorrow’s County Board special election.
Clement received 9,728 votes in the 2011 November general election, when she was the sole challenger to Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada, who both ended up winning reelection. Kelly received 20,570 votes to Democratic incumbent Chris Zimmerman’s 32,894 votes in November 2010. Special elections, however, tend to attract far fewer voters.
As detailed in an email from Arlington County Treasurer and amateur election statistician Frank O’Leary (see table, above), the turnout for special elections has ranged between 18,000 and 22,000 over the past 22 years, compared to the more than 57,000 votes cast in the 2010 County Board election. In two of those special elections — 1993 and 1999 — low turnout helped to propel a Republican to victory over a Democrat.
O’Leary thinks tomorrow may see near-record low turnout, thanks in part to voter fatigue. Democrats voted in a primary in August, a general election in November, a caucus in January, and are now being asked to go to the polls yet again. Plus, there’s the issue of party unity.
“Some may still be nursing grudges as a result of the five dimensional recent Democratic primary (which evidenced a dismal turnout, even allowing for winter weather),” O’Leary noted. That opens up the opportunity for Clement or Kelly to pull out a surprise victory, if either can get enough voters to the polls.
Since 1990, no Democrat has received fewer than 9,143 votes in a County Board special election. At the same time, no Republican (or third party) has received more than 9,788 votes. As such, 10,000 may be the magic number for any of the three candidates.