On Nov. 3, while the country anxiously awaited the results of the 2020 presidential election, one Kentucky town was resting easy after the victor of its own heated election was declared that day.
Wilbur, a 6-month-old French bulldog, was named the mayor of Rabbit Hash, in Boone County, Ky. He bested incumbent Brynneth Pawltro (or Mayor Brynn, as she is known) — a brown and white pit bull who had served in office since 2016.
Tiny Rabbit Hash, home to fewer than 500 people, has never had a human mayor. But each election cycle, people from around the world cast their votes to elect an animal one. The day is both a fun event and a fund-raising opportunity: Voters pay $1 each to cast their ballots, with proceeds going to the nonprofit Rabbit Hash Historical Society, which maintains the town’s buildings. This year, nearly $23,000 was raised.
The town tradition of electing an animal to oversee the community started in 1998, when Boone County — which governs Rabbit Hash — was celebrating its 200th anniversary.
“They asked all the mayors to honor that birthday, but Rabbit Hash didn’t have a mayor,” explained Bobbi Kayser, president of the Rabbit Hash Historical Society, which facilitates the election. “We decided that the best way to get a mayor was to hold our own election.”
“A gentleman by the name of Don Claire came up with the idea that a dog should be mayor,” added Amy Noland, 43, Wilbur’s owner and a Rabbit Hash resident of 18 years. “Dogs run this place anyway.”
The town’s inaugural mayor, a friendly mutt named Goofy Borneman, served until his death, as Rabbit Hash initially had a mayor-for-life rule for its newly elected leaders. The subsequent two mayors held office until they, too, died, Kayser said.
Things changed in 2016, when the historic Rabbit Hash General Store was destroyed in a fire. Although Lucy Lou, a red-and-white border collie, was in office at the time, the town opted to call a snap election in a desperate effort to fund the reconstruction of the general store.
Plus, it also happened to be a particularly vitriolic U.S. election cycle, so the town decided that pet politics would be a welcome distraction from real politics.
It set a date for the election: Nov. 8, 2016 — the same day the U.S. presidential election was scheduled. When Donald Trump clinched the election, so, too, did Mayor Brynn.
This year, too, the mayoral election in Rabbit Hash was held the same day as the U.S. presidential vote, as a way to ease tensions and lift spirits.
“As far as the community goes, making people laugh is a huge thing for us,” Kayser said.
Politics vary in the town, she noted, describing it as a bit of a mixed bag. “Boone County is largely Republican, but when you go to Rabbit Hash, there is a little pile of Democrats.”
As it was in the 2020 presidential race, the campaign season in Rabbit Hash was competitive: Sixteen contenders — mostly dogs, with one donkey, a rooster, and a cat in the mix — fought hard for the title of mayor.
“Although Wilbur did lead during the campaign, in the end, we knew anything could happen,” explained Noland, because people often toss in a ton of votes on the final day, which tends to skew the pre-election so-called polls.
People can vote in-person at most businesses in town or online, where votes pour in from around the world.
Wilbur managed to rack up the highest number of votes in the town’s election history, claiming more than 13,000 ballots. The election raised $22,985 for the historical society, which will make a meaningful contribution toward tending to the town’s historic buildings.
“For me personally, every time I do something for this election, I’m not watching the TV and I’m not on Facebook, I’m having fun,” Kayser said.
Noland agreed: “I’ve gotten thousands of messages from people I don’t know just saying, ‘Thank you so much.’ It was a great distraction for everyone.”