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Editorial / What Westport voters didn't say at the polls

Published 4:04 pm, Thursday, November 8, 2012
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Westport voters have spoken, and once again they have spoken in impressive numbers.

But what exactly did they say?

In simplest terms, they said they like the status quo.

The town's electors backed incumbents for President, for U.S. Congress, for state Senate and for state House of Representatives in two districts. All won reelection.

In fact, the only contest in which Westport did not favor an incumbent was the lone race that didn't have one -- the nasty brawl for retiring Joseph Lieberman's U.S. Senate seat. Westporters overwhelmingly backed the winner, Democrat Chris Murphy over Republican Linda McMahon.

But Tuesday's balloting in Westport was marked not only by what voters said but also by what they did not say.

Given choices for U.S. Senate, the U.S. House and the state legislature, appreciable numbers of voters said nothing at all. They left those lines blank.

Every four years, a presidential election is the glamor race that drives voter turnout far higher than off-year or municipal elections.

According to unofficial returns, 15,047 Westporters cast votes for president Tuesday. They favored Barack Obama over Mitt Romney, 56 percent to 43 percent.

But of those who marked their ballots for president, 4 percent left blanks for U.S. Senator, a boisterous battle that had national implications for both parties.

In balloting for the 4th District seat in Congress, 3.4 percent of those who voted for president had nothing to say -- even though Westport Republican Steve Obsitnik was on the ballot against incumbent Democrat Jim Himes.

Perhaps more disturbing, if not surprising, were the blanks Westporters left for seats in the state legislature -- more than 10 percent of ballots were blank for state senator, for example.

Barack Obama would have swept Connecticut and its seven electoral votes even if every Westport voter went for Romney. Similarly, Murphy would have comfortably won the U.S. Senate seat even if McMahon had swept Westport. Ditto for Himes' Congressional victory over Obsitnik.

In statewide races -- even regional ones such as Congress -- the value of a single vote is diluted. In local legislative contests, however, each vote packs more punch.

Many a Westporter was quick to yelp when the legislature last year approved retroactive hikes in state income taxes. Others lamented mounting state debt and cutbacks in state services and new and higher fees. State businesses have been vocal that Connecticut is unfriendly to businesses.

Yet of Westport people who voted Tuesday for president, an alarming 12 percent left blanks in contests to be their state senators. In races for state House, 5 percent made no choice.

Legislative races lack the glitz of national contests and of even statewide races. But odds are that if you need help from the government, your local legislator is far more likely to personally return your call -- maybe even swing by your house -- than a ranking federal official or the governor.

In major races, voters don't have to do much homework. Passively watch enough TV and you can get a passable overview of the issues and the candidates. But you won't find local races -- the ones voters can most effect -- on CNN, Fox News or even Fairfield County's Channel 12.

You have to read to be informed on local races. Sadly, not enough of us take the time.

When we don't, we have nothing to say at the polls. And if we're unhappy with Hartford, we'll have no one to blame but ourselves.