Elections not over for 2017, but for too many voters, they never began

Warner Robins Mayor Randy Toms hugs his wife, Jane, after final results from Tuesday's election were announced at a campaign party.
Warner Robins Mayor Randy Toms hugs his wife, Jane, after final results from Tuesday's election were announced at a campaign party. jvorhees@macon.com

The city of Warner Robins can get back to normal — sort of. The question of who will run the city for the next four years has been answered with Randy Toms winning a second term. He won without a runoff. However, that is not the case for the Post 1 seat on City Council. Eric Langston, a political newcomer, will meet former Councilman Daron Lee on Dec. 5 to decide the position.

If history provides any guidance, the voter turnout for the runoff will be even more dismal than the 17 percent who decided to show up Tuesday. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did. Four years ago only 20 percent of Warner Robins voters made the effort to vote for mayor.

While Warner Robins is outstanding in many respects, voting, particularly for local offices, is not one of the area’s strong suits. And that’s hard to understand. The city, along with the greater Houston County area bleeds red, white and blue. The largest industrial complex in the state, Robins Air Force Base, is at the city’s front door, and yet, of the almost 40,000 (39,126, to be exact) registered voters, less than 7,000 (6,766 to be exact) bothered to vote for the city’s highest office.

Is it apathy? Quality of the candidates? Or is it something else? Do citizens perceive that everything is OK, so why bother to vote? Maybe it’s the ghost of Donald Walker, who everyone had become so accustomed to steering the Warner Robins ship, that many people still feel his spirit roams the offices of City Hall, but he’s been gone for eight years.

Four years ago the race for mayor was a crowded affair with Toms, Joe Musselwhite, Councilman Mike Brashear, Robins Air Force Base employee Chuck Chalk, retired educator Eva Folse and Councilman Daron Lee on the ballot. Still, only 6,604 people cast a ballot. The runoff for the mayor’s office in 2013 featured Toms and Musselwhite and only 4,700 fine folks showed up.

Randy Toms
Warner Robins Mayor Randy Toms speaks with supporters at his election party on Nov. 7, 2017. He won re-election without a runoff. Wayne Crenshaw wcrenshaw@macon.com

Warner Robins isn’t the only city suffering from the low voter turnout blues — or its consequences. Incumbent Milledgeville Mayor Gary Thrower is out and Mayor-Elect Mary Parham Copelan is in. The winning margin, out of only 1,660 votes cast, was six. When Thrower beat Floyd Griffin for the position two years ago, 2,233 voters appeared at the polls and Thrower’s winning margin was 35.

Down in Fort Valley, Marvin Crafter’s bid to return to council has to wait for a runoff decision between him and Connie Rainey. Crafter fell 4 points shy of the 50 percent needed for a outright win. Mayor Barbara Williams fought back two challengers to win 54 percent of the 1,155 people who voted.

Interesting note, 54 people who voted in the mayor’s race in Fort Valley could have voted in the Crafter-Rainey race, but did not. Those votes would not have put Crafter over the 50 percent threshold, even assuming he would have gotten all of the votes.

Voter behavior is always interesting. Some voters care only about the top spot. The same phenomenon could be seen in the Post 1 Warner Robins vote where 406 voters cast a ballot for mayor, but skipped the Post 1 contest.

And if there is anyone who still believes their single, solitary vote doesn’t count, it’s probably best not to pose that question to Deborah Eve Rhodes or Eartha T. Cummings. They were candidates for the Washington County — Tennille City Council, District 3, Post 2 seat. There were only 39 votes cast, and Cummings won by — a single, solitary vote.