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School board election turnout remains low, but has increased since pre-pandemic

A red and white sign with an arrow pointing towards doors that says "Polling Place"
Roman Battaglia
Delaware Public Media

While school board elections are meant to be nonpartisan, they’ve become increasingly the opposite across the country as debates about book banning, gendered language, and critical race theory came to the forefront.

But Laurisa Schutt, Executive Director of First State Action Fund, said she hasn’t seen that partisanship in Delaware.

“I would not say that we are mirroring what is happening nationally, I really wouldn’t," Schutt said. "A lot of the people that we train and run, it’s based on a vetting process of their values and belief systems and their commitments to their local communities. There are no questions about, are you a ‘D’ or are you an ‘R?’ Are you conservative, are you liberal? We just don’t do that.”

School board elections drew more voters and candidates in some places this year, although turnout overall remains low - with no race seeing turnout higher than 8 percent. The Colonial District saw a 108% increase in voter turnout from last year, but others decreased – with drops of 66% in Capital and 45% in Red Clay. Schutt notes last year’s turnout was likely affected by masking and COVID debates.

Even those districts that had a decrease in turnout from last year, those numbers still represent an increase from previous years. Red Clay's turnout still shows almost a 100% increase from their last pre-pandemic election.

A majority of other districts have similar upward trends.

“I’ve had people text me this morning saying ‘gosh, all these years,’ I’ve never voted,’" Schutt said. "I’ve never understood how much influence school board members have towards deploying public dollars, creatively solving problems, innovating around what is the local issue right here.”

Schutt adds she hopes turnout will continue to increase.

Last year, the Delaware General Assembly passed legislation shortening the school board term to four years instead of five. And this year, overall, the number of people running for a school board seat increased by 26% – and 11% fewer incumbents sought re-election.