Durham town elections experience record turnout


Anna Kate Munsey, Managing Editor

The town of Durham saw record-breaking election turnout on Tuesday, as well as decisions on a widely-debated issue and the election of new faces to local government.  

Unofficial election results had the total number of votes cast at 2,365, including 336 absentee ballots. This beat the prior record of 1,977 votes in 2012. Durham Town Administrator Todd Selig wrote in an email to the community that “an average turnout for the annual Town election is around 1,081.” 

Voting for Tuesday’s town and school elections took place at Oyster River High School (ORHS). The day was a community-wide effort of election workers, local officials, ORHS staff, Durham Public Works and the Durham Police Department.  

The most-buzzed about line on the ballot was Article 2, a question that asked “Shall the Town reverse the action of the Town Council taken on November 1, 2021 to remove the Mill Pond Dam?” 

“No” won with almost three-quarters of the vote, meaning the Mill Pond Dam will be removed. In September, the Durham Town Council voted to remove the dam following discussion and analysis, including a study by VHB engineers and the reality of several deficiencies according to the New Hampshire Dam Bureau. However, Durham residents successfully petitioned for a referendum on the town’s decision, which led to it being a town-wide vote. Those in favor of removal argued that it was less costly and better for the environment. Those against asserted that retaining the dam was less costly and would preserve its historical significance.  

Selig attributed the results on Question 2 to several factors.   

“We have a town charter, a council manager form of government, and a lot of authority is vested in the town council. The Council works hard to address complicated issues on a regular basis, but sometimes there’s an issue that’s very contentious or really big, and there’s a safety valve and that’s the referendum petition process,” he said. 

“The community voted to support the council’s decision which I think is an affirmation of the thought and process and good faith effort the Durham Town Council put into solving this really, really difficult problem.” 

National elections generally see higher turnout in Durham than state or local races. For reference, 7,756 votes were cast in the 2020 general election, as well as 5,583 in the 2020 first-in-the-nation primary. On the other hand, 2,672 were cast in the 2020 state primary election, according to unofficial results.  

In terms of town government positions, three new town councilors were elected: Eleanor Lonske, Eric Lund and Joe Friedman. Andrew Sharp, Erik Waddell and Charlotte C. Ramsay were each elected to a Public Library Trustee position. Nancy Lambert was elected to the one-year Public Library Trustee position. Christopher Regan and Deborah Hirsch Mayer each ran unopposed and won, for the positions of Moderator and Supervisor of the Checklist respectively. Lastly, Craig Seymour beat out Tom Bebbington for the Trustee of the Trust Funds position.  

Selig attributed Tuesday’s high turnout largely to the Mill Pond Dam issue. “2,365 is a very substantial turnout. And I think the explanation is the Mill Pond Dam on the Oyster River. It was a really big issue; it’s been a big issue in Durham for 20 years. And I think the community really took an interest in the topic, and citizens wanted to come out and express their view,” he said in an interview with The New Hampshire.