Our future may depend on it

Published 7:42 pm Tuesday, July 27, 2010

It was a small, blue sheet of paper, not much bigger than a note card. Beside it was a very large, white paper full of writing from top to bottom. This was my first experience at voting in Georgia soon after moving to Donalsonville.

The white paper was the Democratic ballot, with so much to read and choose from that the print was very small. The small blue paper only had a couple of contests; none of them local. It was the Republican ballot.

How times have changed. In the primary election just passed, the five counties in Georgia that I used to represent in the General Assembly had more people vote in the Republican primary than in the Democratic. Only four people in Seminole County chose the small blue ballot in that election in 1976.

Email newsletter signup

Over 61 percent of the voters in those counties, which include Decatur, Early, Grady, Miller and Seminole, voted Republican this time around, with just under 39 percent voting Democratic.

These trends follow the statewide pattern that started long ago. The southern part of the state was populated by conservative Democrats, who along with the Black Caucus and urban Democrats formed the powerful coalition that ruled this state for generations.

I was in the hospital eight years ago when Mary Lou woke me up to tell me that Sonny Perdue had been elected the first Republican Governor since Reconstruction. For the next 24 hours, I thought it was the drugs talking, because it couldn’t possibly be true.

Yet the rural parts of Georgia still clung to the Democratic Party, largely because of the entrenched local politicians in the courthouses. Even today, 108 of 159 sheriffs remain on the Democratic label.

Even with many local races still being determined in the Democratic primary, the majority voting in the primaries have chosen Republican ballots. Just what does that mean for the coming election and the future direction of this state?

Well, the Democrats can take comfort that the turnout was unusually low. Only 18 percent of the eligible voters in those five counties exercised that precious right. Republicans can take comfort in the fact that only 7 percent of the eligible votes in those same counties chose the Democratic ballot.

The primaries have historically been held at inconvenient times, which fosters low voter turnout. They are during the middle of the week, when most people are at work. The primaries are in the hottest part of the summer, when people dont want to listen to even more hot air about politics.

This isn’t an accident. It is a carryover from when the Democrats ruled the roost and the winner was determined in the primary, not the general election. Low turnout favored the entrenched incumbent and still does today. That is why the Republicans who are now in power follow the same tradition.

I knew turnout was going to be unusually low because of the extreme heat we are having and because of the lower than normal number of yard signs in the area. If you weren’t in an area that was having a hotly contested local race, the chances are you were spared the thousands of signs that have become part of our election process these days. The notable exception would be Mike Keown, who started early and must hold the current record for signs in rural southwest Georgia.

At the coffee shop this morning, I listened to the usual banter about the cost of healthcare, the lack of jobs, and the dwindling tax dollars to support schools and services. One gentleman summed it up by blaming the politicians, all of them.

How is it then that in a year where the people are so angry at our incumbent politicians and our government, so adamant about change, so fearful of the future that less than 20 percent of the eligible voters go to the polls?

Have we become a people that would rather complain than take action? With a soaring debt, an unpopular war, and a crippled economy, do we think that we don’t make a difference anymore?

I have been a Democrat and a Republican. I continue to be a Georgian and an American. I believe that my vote counts. Ask Clyde Jinks or Jimmy Phillips in Miller County if a vote counts. They tied in a County Commissioner race at 109 votes apiece. Sometimes it only takes one vote to make a difference.

Southwest Georgia politics have changed a lot in the 30-plus years I have lived here, but in many ways it remains the same.

We will have a runoff election in the next couple of weeks. That will be followed by the General Election on Nov. 2. There are some good people running in both parties.

It is often said that bad people are elected by good people that don’t vote. Cast your ballot in the next election. Our future may depend on it.