In just one year, voters forgot the lesson of Nov. 7, 2000.
Last year's presidential race was so close that only the U.S. Supreme Court could end the impasse over who really won. And yet last Tuesday, a paltry number of people chose to vote in parts of Valdosta and elsewhere. Even in Atlanta, where an open field of ambitious contenders vied to replace Bill Campbell, turnout was only 41 percent of the registered voters. Here in the Iris City, the numbers were shockingly low.
Three seats on the seven-member Valdosta City Council were up for re-election. In District 4, where incumbent Levy Rentz decided not to run again, turnout was less than 10 percent. In District 2, only 16 percent of the 3,700 voters came out to choose either Willie Head or Bunnis Williams.
In District 6, the race between incumbent Richard Hill and challenger Robert Yost garnered the highest turnout, 21 percent.
But even that number represents only about 900 residents who bothered to vote.
I believe much of the problem with generating interest in local elections -- which occur during so-called off-years -- can be traced to the lack of such education in high schools.
Teen-agers need to be given repeated lessons in how local and state governments function. Who makes up a city council, county commission or a school board? How often are they elected? What are their roles? Who is in the state Legislature? When do we choose them? What is the difference between the state House and the state Senate? What is a primary election? When is a runoff necessary?
I continue to be surprised when I have grown readers express their confusion about the differences between a member of Congress and a member of the state House of Representatives.
The elected offices at the local and state levels are those closest to you. You should know the names of your county commissioner, City Council member, state representatives and congressman. I challenge you to find out who they are if you don't know.
Of course, the changing of boundaries for districts every 10 years doesn't make the task of voter education any easier. It's the law, but gerrymandering and partisan politics make it worse.
This newspaper will continue to deliver information about the electoral process to you, but the responsibility remains on your shoulders.
In last week's election, we could have done more to educate voters. The events of Sept. 11 and the war temporarily deflected our attention from the election.
I also tried hard to get a map of the new voting districts for City Council that were redone this year. But it would not have been possible to create a clear reproduction in the newspaper because of the limits of page width and the size of the map that was made available to us.
Some readers also called about sample ballots. We will try to run those when more races are common to more of our readers, as in a countywide election. Otherwise, we would have had to print as many as 10 different ones.
But I know from past experience that even when all the information is presented to voters, they don't always pay attention. Understandably, it's just not sexy to talk about millage rates and utility lines. But just wait until your taxes go up or your waterline breaks, then you're interested.
We urge readers to become aware of how local and state governments operate. They exist to serve you. Don't be remiss in playing your part.
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