What does it take to get registered voters to the polls to cast ballots for the leadership of this community — or this country? While there were no national names on the ballot May 24 with the exception of those running in the Republican Primary for the House and Senate — there were plenty of local races that should have drawn more interest than they did.
Certainly, Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert had only token opposition from a write-in candidate, but there were contested races for sheriff and tax commissioner, the latter featuring a former mayor. There were three Bibb County Board of Education races and three Commission seats contested. Yet the turnout was a paltry 31.76 percent.
Out of 78,006 voters only 24,673 voted in Macon-Bibb County. However, this is not just a Macon-Bibb issue. This problem is national in scope. What more can be done? Most of the offices here were nonpartisan so that shouldn’t have gotten in anyone’s way. The early voting period began on May 2, a full three weeks before the May 24 vote, and there was Saturday voting as well. Absentee ballots were readily available and no reason had to be given for asking for one. It’s obviously not a registration problem. Certainly there are many eligible but unregistered citizens, but what happened to the 53,333 Macon-Bibb registered voters who didn’t show up?
After getting 400 people to sign a petition to move the precinct, only 261 of the 1,417 Godfrey 2 voters cast ballots on May 24.
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One precinct that was in the news continually before the May 24 election was Godfrey 2, normally located at Memorial Gym. The precinct had to be moved — first to a sheriff’s satellite office and then to the Milton Bivins Jr. Challenge Center, after protest by the Georgia NAACP, the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law who chargedd that the location would intimidate voters,. The groups’ petition with 400 signatures, which led to the move, unfortunately didn’t elicit more of the precinct’s 1,417 voters to cast a ballot, as only 261 made the effort.
Maybe state Rep. James Beverly, D-Macon, was on to something when he filed House Bill 978 in February that would have moved Macon-Bibb’s nonpartisan elections to November to coincide with the presidential elections. At the time only state Rep. Nikki Randall signed on to be a co-sponsor. Reichert said it would be a bad idea because a runoff would be near Christmas. Actually, a runoff would most likely be the second week in January. However, his point is valid in that who is paying attention to politics around the holidays, particularly after a contentious presidential election? Most everyone is just happy it’s over with. But on the flip side, holding a runoff in late July is problematic, too, with vacations ending and school beginning Aug. 1.
Though we would not recommend the compulsory voting some countries, such as Australia, do have a law on the books with a fine (about $20) for not voting.
We would take a different approach, a lesson from presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders playbook. Why are many young people so enamored with the 74-yer-old socialist from Vermont? Some would say his message, but could it be much more simple. He’s talking to them — and he’s listening — and he’s forcing other politicians to listen, too. And that’s something many politicians today have forgotten to do and are instead catering to the 30 percent who vote. And that can eventually backfire.