History of low turnout in local elections

History of low turnout in local elections

CHATHAM CO., GA (WTOC) - Polls open at 7 a.m. Tuesday for Election Day across our area.

It is local elections, meaning we expect much lower turnouts than mid-term or presidential election years. We've hovered around 20 percent, meaning our local leaders are being decided by only one in five registered voters who are casting ballots.

Here's a look at the turnout numbers from the past several local elections in Chatham County:

  • 2013: 19.4%
  • 2011: 29.6%
  • 2009: 17.1%
  • 2007: 24.6%

Compare that to the turnout in the past three Presidential Elections:

  • 2012: 72.6%
  • 2008: 79.0%
  • 2004: 77.4%

"Definitely people pay more attention to national politics than they do local politics, even though local politics does affect their lives to a greater degree. But for some reason, issues like zoning are just a little less interesting than social issues and national defense issues," said Dr. Ned Rinalducci, Political Sociologist, Armstrong State University.

And that tends to be the case across the board.

Voters don't always make the connection that what happens at City Hall does have a direct impact on their day-to-day life.

"And when people start to make those connections, particularly something like high crime, that can either drive far greater political interest or it can do the opposite: further apathy," said Dr. Rinalducci.

But voters seem interested this year, particularly in Savannah, where a lot of conversation and campaigning has been happening on social media.

"I've been in Savannah 16 years, and I think this is the most interest I have seen in local elections. But again, that may all be because of the social media attention. And whether or not that translates to anything real in terms of participation, we won't really know until tomorrow," said Dr. Rinalducci.

According to the Board of Elections, early voting turnout has been about the same as last time around. We'll have to wait until Tuesday night to know whether that will be true for turnout at the polls.

"We won't count any votes until tomorrow after the polls close at 7 o'clock. So I hope that it won't be a long night. I hope we're able to count the votes quickly," said Thomas J. Mahoney, Chatham County Board of Elections.

Another issue discussed with Dr. Rinalducci was the number of people who want to see change but then don't vote.

Of course, it's easier to complain than to act, but if you haven't voted already, Tuesday is your chance to at least say you did everything you could to have impact.

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