Record-breaking triple-digit temperatures over the past few weeks have people trying to stay cool the best way they can. School’s out, and family vacations during the month of July takes priority over practically everything.
I believe the saying “lazy days of summer” have taken on a whole new meaning this year. Of course the kids are delighted to be out of school and to participate in faith-based summer programs, nonprofit youth programs, community centers and many others.
But every two to four years, there is something that interrupts the lazy days of summer. On July 31, the general primary will take place. The partisan and nonpartisan races on the ballot are numerous. Visit www.augustaga.gov and click on “Board of Elections” to obtain a copy of your ballot. Advance voting began July 9.
IT’S SAFE TO SAY that general primaries are not very popular, and there are many reasons for that. The problem with low voter turnout during the primary is troubling. Many do not understand what a primary is or its importance.
A primary election is the preliminary step in electing a candidate running for office. The primary is designed so voters will see who will receive the nomination, on a national level, from his or her political party. The candidates from both majority parties who receive the most votes will be on the ballot in the November general election.
I have described the July general primaries in this way, in comparison to the November general election: The NBA just completed the playoffs about a month ago, and there was a winner – the Miami Heat. A number of teams on both sides were vying for the big prize – the coveted NBA championship. Nothing matters more for an NBA player and his team than winning the NBA title.
THE PLAYOFFS serve as an elimination process very similar to the general primary in July. In politics, the two sides are Democratic and Republican. The two NBA teams left standing play in the championship, of which they play up to seven games – just like the winners of the July primaries will face off in the November general election.
Voter apathy in the general primary is like a dark cloud hovering over us, and my hope is that this column will shed light on this grave problem. OK, so you don’t think voting July 31 is important. You’re thinking you can vote for your candidate in November. After all, that is when we’re supposed to vote anyway, right?
But wait a minute. Many elections have been lost in this county by as little as seven votes. What if your candidate was on the July 31 ballot and you really supported that person? You are one of the constituents who do not give July elections much thought, so you didn’t vote. There are thousands who feel the same way. But in this scenario, nine more people felt the same way as you. Ten people – including you, all supporting the same person – didn’t bother to vote in July. You wake up Aug. 1 and discover that your candidate lost by 10 votes.
Is this going to be your candidate?
Here are some statistics from the Richmond County Board of Elections on voter turnout for the general primaries from 1996 to 2008.
• July 1996 – 25.20 percent (presidential election year);
• July 1998 – 24.88 percent;
• July 2000 – 18.8 percent (presidential election year);
• August 2002 – 27.58 percent;
• July 2004 – 36.68 percent (presidential election year);
• July 2006 – 18.17 percent;
• July 2008 – 23.15 percent (presidential election year);
• July 2010 – 14.6 percent.
YOU WILL NOTICE that these statistics are pretty consistent. Note that they peak, most of the time, during presidential election years. But keep in mind that there is no opposition from either party for presidential candidates this election year. In 2008, you may recall in the Democratic presidential primary, Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were vying for the Democratic nomination. Even the general primary voter turnout wasn’t that significant that year.
Despite these less-than-attractive numbers, I am still encouraged. Voters have three weeks to vote between now and July 31. If you think for any reason that you may be out of town, or it will be too hot, or whatever the reason July 31, I recommend you vote in advance for the candidate of your choice.
See you at the polls!
(The writer is a radio talk-show host, published author, life coach and mental-health advocate.)