Turnout for Delaware’s annual school board elections is often low - and almost no-one votes absentee. But this year, a record number of people are requesting absentee ballots.
Two contested school board elections in New Castle County have drawn more than 250 times the amount of absentee ballot requests compared to 2019.
And 24 times the amount of people have already returned their ballots to the board of elections.
For example, in Red Clay School District, 23 people cast absentee ballots last year. This year, 3505 requests for an absentee ballot were filled out and as of July 16th, 291 ballots had been recieved.
School board elections usually see the lowest turnouts of any Delaware elections, but this year could break records because all voters can cast their vote by mail.
The state eased its requirements to vote absentee in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Appoquinimink School Board president Richard Forsten explains why most school board elections see such a small turnout.
“I also think sometimes people are happy. By all accounts, people are always complimenting Appoquinimink school district. And I think sometimes there's a low voter turnout it may be because people are generally satisfied with the way things are going and they don’t take the time to vote.”
Forsten says school boards are important because they keep track of the district's finances to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being spent well. They also perform an ombudsman role for the district, acting as an intermediary between the schools and the community.
He says people often overlook the impact of these elections.
“I think some people, you know, they don’t have children in the public school system so they don’t pay attention, perhaps, the way they should. Even if you don’t have kids in the school system it’s still something, I’ll say worth your time because education affects all of us whether we have kids in the district or not.”
Forsten wonders if those voting absentee in this election regularly vote in person, but chose to vote-by-mail this year because of COVID-19 - or it’s a new set of voters attracted by the convenience of vote-by-mail.
Absentee ballots are due to the election office by 8pm on election day, next Tuesday. In person polling places will be open between 7am and 8pm.
Anyone residing in the school district can vote in the school board election, you don’t have to be a registered voter to cast a ballot. All those who wish to vote have to bring a photo ID with them to the polling place.
Information about candidates can be found on the Delaware Department of Elections website:
Roman Battaglia is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.