Though Mohammed Saleh rarely misses an election, he voted in his first municipal primary Tuesday.
Standing outside the Keene Middle School — the Ward 3 polling place — in the midday sun, Saleh said a charged national and international political environment compelled him to turn out.
“I usually always vote, but this is the first time (at) the primary of the City Council, because now I think, more than ever, every election matters.”
At the polls Tuesday, some voters cited particular local issues — property taxes, access to social services, the city’s role in combating climate change — that they feel are important this election season.
But mostly they stressed the sense of civic duty that brought them out to vote in a minimally contested local primary.
Only one race — that of City Council at-large, where 11 candidates vied for 10 general-election slots — was contested Tuesday.
When John Croteau voted at the Ward 2 polling place — the parks and recreation building on Washington Street — around 8:40 a.m., he was the ninth person to do so, according to a tally on the electronic ballot reader, he said.
“I want to try and make sure that the right people get into office, and I think there’s some people that run for office that just do it to disrupt the system,” he said.
Tom Cook, a film professor at Keene State College, said he wanted to support the several City Council candidates he knows personally. But he said he votes in city primaries regularly.
“One of the first things I ask people, if they’re complaining about what’s going on with government, is, ‘Did you vote?’ ” he said. “And if they didn’t, my feeling is, then you’ve got nothing to say about it.”
Walking briskly out of Symonds Elementary School on Park Avenue, the Ward 4 polling place, later in the day, Keene Police Chief Steven Russo put it more concisely: “I think that we should all vote.”
Apparently, many Keene residents felt differently.
Five percent, or 934, of the city’s 18,384 registered voters cast ballots in Tuesday’s primary.
The numbers mirrored those of 2013, when the city’s primary was also limited to an 11-way at-large council race. Six percent of voters turned out that year.
In 2015, with 16 candidates running in the at-large primary and contested races for two ward council seats and the mayor’s office, turnout reached 11 percent.
The two previous municipal election cycles, 2011 and 2009, held primaries with no contested races. Both saw 3 percent turnout.
Mary Fay, the Ward 5 moderator, said older voters tend to be the ones who show up to city elections.
As for younger demographics, often, “they choose not to represent themselves,” she said.
William Appleton, 26, didn’t disagree.
“Not a lot of my friends are voting now,” he said Tuesday evening after voting in Ward 5. “But it took me five minutes.”
Appleton, who moved to Keene in the mid-2000s, said he usually votes in municipal elections.
“There’s been a lot of talk about big-level politics, federal politics … but the way I think I can make a change is by voting at a local level.”
Elected officials and candidates, meanwhile, used the opportunity to catch up with constituents and connect with voters in advance of the Nov. 7 general election.
Early Tuesday afternoon, incumbent at-large City Council candidate Gary P. Lamoureux; Maggie Rice, a candidate for the Ward 4 Council seat; and Molly Lane, the wife of Mayor Kendall W. Lane, stood near a NO CAMPAIGNING PAST THIS POINT placard outside Symonds Elementary, toting signs.
“Any time you can use your right to vote and come out and decide, even if it’s for one person, that’s important,” Rice said.
“It’s a little slow right now,” Lamoureux acknowledged. “With primaries, it typically is.”
But even a low-turnout primary like Tuesday’s offers elected officials a chance to converse with constituents, he said.
“The people who I’ve talked to are interactive, they’re actually engaged in what’s going on in the community,” he said.
Around 1:30 p.m., Ward 3 Councilor Terry M. Clark sat outside the Keene Middle School in a camp chair, reading “SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome” by Mary Beard and greeting the occasional constituent who passed by to vote.
“You don’t get to talk to people very often, you know, and this is a time when they talk to you,” he said. “They come up to you, and they ask you a question that they’ve probably been wanting to ask for a year.”
With only one opponent, Michael Giacomo, challenging him in Ward 3, Clark’s seat was not at risk in the primary. But he said Tuesday’s result would nonetheless serve as an important gauge.
“It’s gonna be an indicator, even the uncontested races,” he said. “Me and my opponent, who’s gonna win that race? Who’s gonna come out of it as the viable candidate?”