Valdosta Daily Times

What We Think

May 12, 2014

What We Think: Ballots: Nothing simple about a sample

- — Each election season, people call The Times and ask, when will you run a sample ballot? Providing a sample is not as simple as it used to be.

There was a time when a newspaper could easily run a sample ballot in its pages. Then, no matter a voter’s polling place, most everyone in the county used the same ballot. Everyone voted for all commissioners, school board members, etc., and the candidate receiving the most votes won. Legislators represented an entire county. In a region where almost every candidate ran only as Democrats until about 20 years ago, there was little need for even two ballots for differing political parties.

But the times have changed.

Commissioners and school board members represent different districts and only the voters living in those districts can vote for those specific candidates. A handful of state legislators represent different parts of Lowndes County while also representing bits and pieces of several other counties. Though Georgia has switched primarily from one-party Democratic rule to one-party Republican control, both parties still field candidates in local and state races.

Though aware of these changes, folks still look for a sample ballot. The reality is that there are dozens of ballots for Lowndes County alone.

For this primary race, the Lowndes County Board of Elections reports there are 104 different ballots within Lowndes alone.

Why so many different ballots? Well, one voter may be eligible to vote for one commission candidate, one school board candidate, one state representative, etc., while a neighbor as close as across the street may live in completely different sets of districts with completely different candidates for the commission, school board and Legislature. Or any combination of varying districts and candidates. This may be a bit of an exaggeration but with more than a hundred different ballots, it’s not much of one.

And if the one resident plans to vote Democrat and the other plans to vote Republican then the entire ballot changes to represent each party’s field of candidates for a given set of districts.

Given the number of possibilities, 104 ballots not only sounds feasible but reasonable.

But it makes printing a sample ballot neither feasible nor reasonable.

If The Times could publish one or two ballots that represented what the majority of voters will find at the polling place this election season, we would. But such simplicity is no longer realistic in today’s more complex political landscape. Most voters won’t know until they arrive at the election office or the polling place which of the 104 ballots represents them.

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