Example: In the District 3 Cobb Commission race, incumbent JoAnn Birrell won re-election with 8,477 votes, which is 7.96 percent of the 106,390 active registered voters, according to the county elections office. The voters may be registered but most are not active. Totaling the votes for Birrell and her two opponents, the turnout was 13,534, or 12.7 percent of the registered voters.
The story was the same in other races. In the District 1 commission race, former Chairman Bill Byrne came in first with 4,295 votes and faces a runoff against former Acworth alderman Bob Weatherford, second with 3,692 votes. Three other candidates were eliminated. Even in a contest that was supposed to be of high interest to voters in west Cobb, turnout was dismal, with the runoff candidates being decided by 14.7 percent of the 102,730 active registered voters, per my calculator.
Byrne remarked on the low turnout including races for the U.S. Senate and governor of Georgia, rather important offices. He said, “I can’t figure that out. I don’t understand it.”
I think I have figured it out. The low turnout is an echo of SPLOST votes, decided by a relative handful of voters in special elections. The primary elections were moved up from the more traditional later dates, which did not help. But the date is not the problem here. Lack of interest is what depresses voter turnout. Boil it down and about 85 percent of the registered voters in Cobb County just don’t care who represents them in elected offices — except maybe when there’s a presidential election.
This is not about bemoaning lack of voter interest. There’s more to it. These elections cost taxpayers a bundle for a few voters to avail themselves of the privilege of voting. It’s not worth the cost, in the view of Libertarian Party of Georgia chairman Doug Craig who made the point in an Election Day news release. He said, “These nominating elections are held for Democrat and Republican parties only at a cost of millions of tax dollars and a greater cost for runoff elections.”
But, Craig said, the Libertarian Party, along with other political parties and independent candidates, “are locked out of the political process due to some of the most restrictive ballot access laws in the nation.” Georgia requires third parties and independent candidates to collect signatures from five percent of registered voters to get on the ballot. That requires more effort than running a campaign, according to the Libertarians, who despite the barriers, have fielded candidates for U.S. Senate, governor and a Public Service Commission seat in the November elections.
“Perhaps a better alternative to nominations would be to require the major parties to nominate by convention as the LP is required to do at no cost to taxpayers,” Craig said. Now that’s food for thought.