They’re not about the remaking of those cities’ councils or the possibility of steep political changes in Weaver and Jacksonville.
They’re not about which candidate has the most effective message or the most active team of campaign volunteers willing to spread the word anytime, any place.
They’re about you.
Who should represent you for the next four years?
Better yet, what type of person do you want leading your city, your ward or your school board?
And, the real question: Will you show up?
A prediction: In some areas, Calhoun County’s voter turnout in August will be decent; in others, it will stink. Anniston’s activists seem willing to vote today because they’ve wilted amid the political discord of the last three-plus years. They are tired of it, and they want change. For them, next month’s elections can’t arrive soon enough. For that reason alone, the city may turn out in force. But what about Oxford and Jacksonville and Weaver, where mayoral races could become interesting?
Will they be decided by a fair representation of the public? Or, as is often the case, will they be decided by a small percentage of registered voters?
That’s a real fear.
As elections go, municipal votes are the traditional bottom-feeders on the political calendar. Turnout for presidential elections is always highest, and even those Election Days carry wide variances depending on who’s on the ballot and the issues at hand. Consider 2008, when 2.1 million Alabamians, a state record, voted in the presidential election between Barack Obama and John McCain. Sixty-five percent of registered Calhoun County voters cast ballots that day.
Midyear congressional elections don’t fare as well, and local elections take what they can get, which often isn’t much. Apathy, fatigue, registration issues and flat-out indifference about hometown affairs make it difficult for candidates to persuade voters to trudge to the polls and vote for mayor, the council and school board. Judging a newspaper’s letters-to-the-editor page or the number of street signs in your neighborhood is an ineffective way to predict how many people will participate in this vital part of American democracy.
History proves that.
This explainer written by FairVote.org, a Maryland-based think tank that advocates for the structural reform of U.S. elections, is worth remembering. “Voter turnout is a fundamental quality of fair elections and is generally considered to be a necessary factor for a healthy democracy. Low turnout is usually attributed to disengagement from the system because of perceived effectiveness of voting in changing policy decisions.”
But, in terms of our nearing city elections, here’s the gut punch. “Low turnout is most pronounced in off-year elections for state legislators and local officials as well as primaries. In many cities, for example, mayors of major cities often are elected with single-digit turnout; for example, turnout was only 5 percent of registered voters in a recent Dallas mayoral election, 6 percent in Charlotte, and 7 percent in Austin (Texas).”
That means Calhoun County’s elections could again turn on a smattering of votes, especially where residents cast ballots by ward. A low turnout in a specific ward can result in the election — or re-election — of a council member who’s supported by a not-so-impressive sampling of ward voters. When turnout is low, mayoral races aren’t wholly different.
So it’s back to you — us — the voters.
In Anniston, the first candidate forum, for Ward 4, is next Thursday at the Norwood Hodges Community Center. Forums for the other three wards and the races for mayor and school board will follow, as will those in other cities. Don’t miss them. They’re golden.
Less than 50 days remain until Calhoun County’s elections.
That’s not much time to vet the people who want to lead us for the next four years.
It’s on us: Who are the smart, resourceful, open-minded candidates? Who will take us forward? Who will leave us stuck in yesterday’s mire?
Less than 50 days. Our future is nearing.
Phillip Tutor — email@example.com — is The Star’s commentary editor. Follow him at Twitter.com/PTutor_Star.