Editorials, Opinion

Are May primaries the perfect time for city elections?

Elections are still on our minds, with Morgantown’s council election just last week and Westover’s recent announcement it intends to move the town’s municipal election to coincide with May primaries. Star City recently voted to put its future elections on the county’s primary ballot as well. (Even though voters will be going to the polls in May, it will still be the towns’ “general” election.) 

Westover and Star City seem to be moving in the right direction, and we hope Morgantown will follow suit.  

The City of Morgantown made a huge push — and invested a pretty penny — to put election information in front of voters this year, and yet roughly seven in eight registered voters didn’t bother to show up at the polls. It seems information and encouragement aren’t enough to overcome the inconvenience of voting in an off-year.  

In 2018, the last time Morgantown seriously considered moving its municipal election to the county ballot, there were worries about local issues being overshadowed by national politics and partisanship. At the time, it was said quantity (more voters) might not be better than quality (engaged and informed voters). We can certainly understand that concern. There is always a lot of noise around state and national elections — a lot of “us” vs. “them” rhetoric and big, hot-button issues taking center stage.  

That’s why we think Westover and Star City would be hitting the sweet spot by adding their municipal elections to the May primary ballot.  

Primary elections still tend to have relatively low voter turnout, especially compared to the general election, but they do get more voters than city-only elections. (In the 2022 primary, almost 19% of the county’s registered voters participated, compared to less than 13% of Morgantown’s registered voters in this last city council election.) Primaries also tend to be less heated than general elections, with fewer politically hot topics. Plus, the county board of education and other nonpartisan races appear on the primary ballot, so voters are already thinking locally.  

And — as an added bonus — towns save money by adding their municipal elections to county ballots. When cities hold standalone elections, they are on the hook for all the related expenses. But counties are already paying to put on primary and general elections, and it adds virtually nothing to the overall cost to include a city’s candidates and referendums on the ballot. And even if municipalities needed to chip in, it would still cost less than having their own election.  

It seems joining the May primary is the best compromise for any municipality that wants higher voter turnout but doesn’t want local issues and candidates to be overshadowed by state and national politics. We hope Morgantown will give serious consideration to moving the city election to the primary ballot for future years.