The four candidates for two Bluffton Town Council seats hope to reverse a trend of low voter turnout in this year's election.
Ted Huffman and Karen Lavery are challenging incumbents Fred Hamilton and Allyne Mitchell on Nov. 8 for at-large seats that will go to the two top vote-getters.
Mayor Lisa Sulka is running for re-election unopposed and is not on the ballot because no write-in candidates filed for the seat, according to Scott Marshall, executive director of the Beaufort County Board of Voter Registration and Elections.
There are 7,066 registered voters in Bluffton, according to the county elections board. In recent elections, a candidate hasn't had to woo many of them to win a seat. In 2009, after the town shifted its elections to odd-numbered years, 552 of the town's then 5,650 registered voters, or about 9.77 percent, cast ballots.
"Turnout is not great any time -- there's just such apathy across the board," Sulka said. "The candidates have got to get these residents out to vote."
With that in mind, all four council candidates are scheduled to meet in a forum for the first time at 7 p.m. Tuesday near the pool in the Pinecrest amenities center, according to community property owners association member Mike Tripka.
The League of Women Voters of the Hilton Head Island/Bluffton Area will host its first-ever forum for Bluffton candidates at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Town Hall.
Meanwhile, candidates are knocking on doors and shaking hands to spread the word of an election some say residents don't even know about.
Lavery and Huffman have hosted several meet-and-greets at local communities, such as Hampton Hall and Mill Creek.
"I'm telling residents that the main thing is to get out and vote -- and hopefully, they'll vote for me," Lavery said.
The town once held elections in December of even-numbered years before deciding in 2006 to move them to November in odd years.
Sulka, who was a council member at the time, said the change to odd years was intended to keep the "uniqueness" of Bluffton elections.
Keeping Bluffton elections at separate times from national and state elections should allow voters to focus on local issues and educate themselves about the candidates, instead of "voting just to vote" during a general election, Sulka said.
Huffman said many residents he has spoken to are not aware of the election, for which he faulted local media. Low turnout means Bluffton officials don't truly represent residents, he added.
"When that small of a percentage decides the election, that's hardly a mandate," Huffman said.
Greater Bluffton Republican Club president Margie Fox said the switch in election dates hasn't achieved its goal. If turnout remains low this year, "the town needs to take a hard look at it," Fox said.
The club supports Lavery and Huffman, a former club president, but Fox said its voter education emphasizes that the elections are nonpartisan.
The Bluffton Tea Party also is attempting to rally voters by making phone calls but isn't backing any candidates, Lavery said. Attempts this week to contact Bluffton Tea Party members were unsuccessful.
Hamilton said he is revving up his campaign to reach more people.
"I will show up at these forums, continue to knock on doors," he said. "I don't take this race for granted, but I think my track record speaks for itself."
Attempts this week to reach Mitchell for comment for this story were unsuccessful.
Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/BlufftonBlogIP.