Turnout at polls could set new low

More than ever before, the outcome of today's elections will depend on which candidates get their people to the polls.

The city might even set a new low. Richmond County Board of Elections Executive Director Lynn Bailey predicts voter turnout of 10 percent to 15 percent, which would be the lowest for any commission election since city-county consolidation in 1996.

Odd-numbered commission seats are up this year, with contested elections in Districts 1, 3 and 5. There's also a special election in District 5 to replace Richmond County Board of Education trustee Joe Scott, who died in July.

Last month, Mrs. Bailey predicted turnout of about 20 percent, a forecast based on past November commission elections without national, state or mayoral races on the ballot. But participation in early voting was so low in recent weeks, and requests for absentee ballots so few, that she adjusted that.

Mrs. Bailey attributes this year's lack of interest to post-presidential election doldrums. Turnout for the June sales tax referendum was only 8.71 percent; she had predicted 10 to 12 percent.

"I think it's sometimes hard to get people back out to the polls and get them energized," she said.

During early and advance voting in October, 1,367 of the 41,892 eligible voters in Districts 1, 3 and 5 -- 3.3 percent -- participated. Before the June SPLOST election, 2,230 of the 111,805 eligible voters citywide -- 2 percent -- took part in early and advance voting.

Because last month's percentage was slightly better than the numbers in May and June, Mrs. Bailey predicts that today's turnout will be a tad better than it was for the SPLOST election.

Since consolidation, the lowest turnout on record for a commission election was 16 percent in 1999, when even-numbered commission seats were up. The highest was 41 percent in 2005, when odd-numbered seats were up along with a special election to replace Mayor Bob Young, who had resigned to take a job with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. An ensuing runoff between Deke Copenhaver and Willie Mays had even higher turnout, with 45 percent.

The lowest turnout Mrs. Bailey has found for any Augusta election, dating back to 1973, was 3.19 percent for a citywide Democratic primary runoff in August 1988.

In years to come, participation percentages will seem lower because so many new people registered last year for the presidential election. Between March and November 2008, the number of eligible voters in Augusta grew from 90,242 to 106,615.

"Even laying that aside, this is still a low turnout for this type of election," Mrs. Bailey said.

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com

TIME TO VOTE

WHEN: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. today

THE RACES: The offices that are up for election and that have opposed races on the ballot are Augusta Commission Districts 1, 3 and 5; Board of Education District 5; three members of the Hephzibah City Commission; and mayor and two council members for the city of Blythe.

WHERE TO VOTE: Only districts that have contested races will have open polling places. If there is no opposition and no one has qualified as a write-in candidate, then the candidate is deemed to have voted for himself or herself and the polling places will not be open.

TURNOUTS PAST

Richmond County Board of Elections Executive Director Lynn Bailey predicts turnout of 10 percent to 15 percent for today's commission and school board elections, which would be the lowest for any commission election since city-county consolidation in 1996.

18.6% :

1997: Odd-numbered seats, with contested elections in Districts 1, 3, 5 and 7

16%

1999: Even-numbered seats, with contested elections in Districts 2, 4, 6 and 10

22.8%

2001: Odd-numbered seats, with contested elections in Districts 1, 3, 5 and 7 and the first election of a civil court marshal

21%

2003: Even-numbered seats, with contested elections in Districts 2, 6, 8 and 10

41%

2005: Odd-numbered seats, with contested elections in districts 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 and a special election to replace former Mayor Bob Young

19.8%

2007: Even-numbered seats, with contested elections in Districts 2, 4, 6 and 10

Source: Richmond County Board of Elections Executive Director Lynn Bailey

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