Originally created 07/18/02

How to boost turnout



A surge of patriotism following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks was expected to boost Americans' participation in the electoral process. But so far it hasn't happened.

In South Carolina primaries last month the turnout was only 18 percent, and less than that in the runoffs, even though the governor's mansion, a U.S. Senate seat and all the state legislative offices are up for grabs in November.

Now it's Georgia's turn. This state's Aug. 20 primary turnout is expected to follow the same dismal pattern as South Carolina's. But perhaps not in Columbia County. The Republican Party there has come up with a plan that might very well boost voter participation.

Party Chairman Alvin Starks' motivation isn't mainly to increase turnout; it's to sound out the GOP-dominated community on a number of hot-button, local and state political issues - a dozen, to be exact.

Questions such as, should Georgia voters have a hand in designing the state flag?; and should the hated stormwater utility fee be enforced countywide and made tax deductible?

Of course, the balloting will be non-binding - none of the queries will be on a referendum in November. But, as Starks says, in a heavily Republican county the results will provide a strong indication of how most residents feel about the tough issues - and elected politicians will be sure to take note.

Because questions on the ballot will be both interesting and controversial, more Columbia Countians may come to the polls than would otherwise be the case. Voters feel like they're more a part of the process if they're asked to take political stands themselves instead of just being asked to vote for candidates.

If voter turnout is up in Columbia County's primary, then other counties may follow suit in two years. Anything that brings more voters to the polls - especially informed voters - is a good thing.