Bradley County election administrators of the past and present have agreed on this point: Voter turnout is influenced most by two factors — issues and candidates.Some might toss in weather as a …
Bradley County election administrators of the past and present have agreed on this point: Voter turnout is influenced most by two factors — issues and candidates.
Some might toss in weather as a third, but with a two-week opportunity to vote early prior to Election Day this would seem to be a frivolous argument.
So what happened last week?
Only 16,147 registered voters in Bradley County cast their ballots in an election that included hotly contested races for Cleveland mayor, for two seats on the Cleveland City Council, for a seat on the Bradley County Commission, for two seats on the Bradley County Board of Education, for a seat on the Charleston City Commission, for the Republican nomination in the race for the 24th Legislative District … and those were just the locally contested races.
Included on the Bradley County ballot were a few other “incidental” state contests; please note the facetiousness in our tone.
Let’s see … those included heavily jostled primaries to select party nominees for Tennessee governor, for the U.S. House of Representatives in both District 3 and District 4, and for U.S. Senate.
With Bill Haslam leaving the governor’s mansion in Nashville due to term limits, and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker choosing to retire from his influential post in Washington, D.C., as well as incumbent U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and Scott DesJarlais facing opposition in their own primaries, it was logical to assume a respectable turnout in our community.
Yet, 16,147 registered voters took the time to mark a ballot. That’s a paltry 24.72 percent of the registered voter rolls in our hometown community.
Of that amount, 9,523 voted early at one of the three voting satellites, and 6,432 cast ballots on an especially soggy Election Day last Thursday. The remainder — almost 200 — voted absentee.
So what gives? Why the disdain for a privilege — and a right, some might even call it a mandate — that defines America like no other?
Yes, Mother Nature wept all day last Thursday on the traditional Election Day. Obviously, three weeks earlier no one knew that would be the forecast. But still, ignoring a full two-week opportunity (Monday through Saturday) to visit a satellite and simply mark a ballot, a process that takes maybe five minutes? Really? Is this what America is coming to?
We’ve all heard of apathy, but this is something far worse.
By virtue of less than 25 percent of local voters troubling themselves to mark a ballot, here’s what we think we’re hearing the other 75 percent silent majority say:
• We’re not voting because our vote makes no difference.
• We’re not voting because it doesn’t matter who wins the elections, the self-serving politicians are all the same … looking out for themselves, their friends and their corporate buddies.
• We’re not voting because these are meaningless local and state races whose winners suddenly forget our names once elected.
• We’re not voting because nothing ever changes; the politicians make promises to work to make our lives better. But when they get in the hot seat and realize how difficult decisions can be, they suddenly forget campaign promises.
• We’re not voting because government leaders — local, state and national — have abandoned the practice of compromise. They don’t talk. They don’t listen to the other side. All they do is push through the agenda of the majority.
• We’re not voting because the number of moderates keeps getting smaller and smaller, and are being overwhelmed by the intimidation of political extremes … on both ends, the conservative and the liberal.
• We’re not voting because no single candidate can alter our wayward course; such a movement takes more than one, and in today’s political climate it’s impossible to find a handful of people who agree on anything.
• We’re not voting because we’re resigned to a feeling of hopelessness, one that moans, “I’m tired. I’m fed up. So, I give up.”
It is our hope — in truth, it is our prayer — the above are mere exaggerations by an editorial writer gone mad. But we fear they are real. We fear they are here. We fear they will stay until we — voters and politicians, alike — find a way to accommodate the needs of the other.
It sounds improbable, perhaps even impossible.
But it is not.
The first step is to stop looking out for No. 1. The second step is to see the forest, and not just the trees. And the third is simplest of all: Make decisions for the right reasons, not for the right people.
We can do it. But it takes more than will. It takes discipline.
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