by Sandra Stringer
Okay, yes, you are perfectly within your rights to not be a voter. But I’d like to at least try to convince you to register to be a voter. If you’re African American or a woman, a lot of people went through varying levels of hell to get you that right. Heck, if you’re white, male and not a landowner, you didn’t always have that right! See, it’s a privilege.
A lot of people didn’t vote in that last election back in November. In fact, voter turnout for the last election was the lowest it’s been in 20 years. Just 55% of the people who could vote in the last election turned up at the polling places. That means over 100 million people didn’t vote who could have.
Local elections aren’t that sexy
How does that affect our local elections? Well, if you’ve ever watched election results running across your screen right after the polls close, you probably know the answer to this. Not very many people vote in local elections.
I have no idea what the actual numbers are for James Island, because there is some complexity in the fact that not everyone on the island is considered part of the Town of James Island. According to Wikipedia, “[t]he Town currently includes a population of 11,500. Approximately 6,000 residents remain in unincorporated Charleston county, and 20,000 in the City of Charleston.” So…37,500, give or take? I have no idea how many of those residents are eligible to vote (I mean, there are probably a lot of kids in that number, right?), but here’s what I do know.
Take, for example, the JIPSD election
In the last election, here were the results for the James Island Public Service District election, in which 16,199 people voted:
Kathy Woolsey 3,183 20%
Sandi Engelman 2,325 14%
Eugene Platt 2,322 14%
June Waring 2,177 13%
Donna Jenkins 1,619 10%
Carter McMillan 1,559 10%
Giovanni Richardson 1,134 7%
Alan Laughlin 975 6%
Oana Johnson 905 6%
Two years prior in 2014, not a presidential election year, here were the results for the James Island Public Service District election:
Mary Beth Berry 1,191 11.11%
Marilyn Clifford 604 5.63%
Inez Brown Crouch 1,624 15.15%
Ernest Duncan 543 5.07%
Sandi Engelman 844 7.87%
Hal Hanvey 535 4.99%
Donald A. Hollingsworth 1,170 10.92%
Kay Kernodle 1,279 11.93%
Lyndy Palmer 753 7.02%
Robert Schurmeier 735 6.86%
Bill Cubby Wilder 1,372 12.80%
10,650 on James Island turned out to vote. That means 5,549 people showed up for the 2016 Presidential election that didn’t show up for a purely local election two years earlier.
I don’t know how many people are eligible to vote on James Island, and I have no idea how many of that number is actually registered, but I suspect that there are a lot of unregistered potential James Island voters out there. And I can see that of those who are registered to vote, not as many take part in the smaller local elections.
What’s the problem here?
Now, I’m sure that some voters run into the same problem that I have run into every year that I have voted in a local election, which is having not a single solitary clue who to vote for. The whole reason I started the Bugle was because of my frustration about this which reached a fiery pinnacle on this past Election Day.
We here at the Bugle will do our level best to provide you real information about the candidates in future elections. Not only will you know who is running for James Island positions, but you’ll know how they stand on the issues related to the position they’re running for, unless they refuse to tell us. Which would be silly of them, wouldn’t it?
It’s stupid that Election Day is on Tuesday
I realize it’s a hassle to go vote. For a reason having little to do with modern life, it’s always on a Tuesday. As most of you know, it’s really very hard to change things when it’s been done a certain way for over a hundred years. Even if it would be totally logical to have elections run for an entire weekend, it’s not likely to change. (Yes, both Saturday and Sunday! I know you want your results within hours, but cool your jets.)
I’m lucky. I have the privilege to be able to take a vacation day on Election Day every year. Not everyone can do that. In fact, most people who vote have to really have to go out of their way to make it happen. Like I said though, this isn’t likely to change, although I fervently wish it would.
Is it the “why vote” mindset?
Every time a presidential election comes around, you hear people make the statement, “My vote doesn’t count and it doesn’t matter”. Of course, 45% of eligible voters in the U.S. didn’t make it to the polls, and that should tell us something. It would be amazing to see the percentages broken down to how many couldn’t get off work to go, how many were unable to go for whatever reason, and how many just didn’t even try.
Would it make any real difference? Is having 55% of the electorate show up a good enough sampling to really know the will of the American people? Could be. We have nothing to compare it to. But I will say this: if you can vote and don’t, you’re passing up the opportunity to be part of the democratic process. It has its flaws, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t participate.
How does this translate? Let’s say, to use a favorite gripe of mine, that only one person in the whole of the United States threw trash out his or her window. Well, that’s not so bad. But it’s not just one person, is it? The combined garbage of every thoughtless toss is the mess we all see every day on our roadways all across the nation and right here on James Island.
No, I’m not saying that our election results are trash. I’m saying that you’re not just one person. You’re part of the larger picture, and you should never see your small part in our big electoral process as insignificant.
I bet you know what’s coming next
If you’re not registered, the next step should be obvious. Register to vote. Why do it now? Well…why not?
Look at it this way: every year just prior to the election, somebody has to process the incoming flood of registration requests. They are probably working frantically, slamming coffee, and wishing with all their heart for the deadline to register to arrive. But if you register now, they are probably like, “Oh, thank heavens! Someone wants to register on this very slow day!” They take a sip of their ginger tea with lemon and happily go about the task. See, it’s the best way to do it!
You’ve got five minutes somewhere in your crazy life to spare for this. Get it done. Once you’re registered, you are registered for life. Sure, if you move, you’ll have to update your Driver’s License and then update your voter registration. Yeah, it’s a responsibility. Not as troublesome as doing your taxes though, I promise.
Be an informed voter
The next step is to be a true political nerd each time an election rolls around. Before the next election, the Bugle will fill you in on exactly what you can expect to see on your ballot. Study up! The national elections are easy to research. The state and local elections take a bit more poking around. Sciway has a handy page to start with, as does South Carolina Votes.
If you really want to get down to the nitty gritty, I recommend – once you know who all the candidate are – going and having a look at individual websites. All the state candidates and sometimes the local candidates will have their very own website, where you can read in some depth about their platform. Usually there are American flags all over these pages. Try not to be distracted by the pretty patriotic imagery.
Share what you learn with your friends and family. Be the font of knowledge for election season!
Actually go to the polls
Your first time, you may be a little nervous. You’re anxiety will diminish once you realize you’re in a local school gym.
The voting machine is equally as unthreatening. No hanging chads here! Typically you’ll be set up at a voting booth featuring a touch screen. If kindergarteners were allowed to vote, they’d find this hilariously simple. Bring a piece of paper with all your choices written down, put in your votes, press “VOTE” at the end (or whatever version of that they have next time – it usually really is that obvious), and you’re done.
For those who want to go even further
Some of you were meant to go a little further. Me, I find meetings of ANY kind about as pleasant as dental surgery. I don’t go to town meetings. If I have an opinion about an upcoming issue, I find out who’s in charge of that particular piece of government and I email or call them. You can do this too. It usually only takes a minute or two to figure out who to write to or call.
But maybe you’re the kind of person who would do well being a bit more personally involved. You can actually attend meetings of the Town of James Island. You can even become involved in one of the branches of the town’s government.
If you really want to go the extra mile and feel you have something to offer, you can even be a candidate and play an active role in James Island government. I have no idea how you do that, but I imagine it involves paperwork. If you decide that’s something you want to do, let me know and I’ll put feelers out and see what the process is to become a candidate for a particular position.
The Bottom Line
Register to vote. And once you’re registered, or if you’re already registered, think about really participating – get ready for elections and vote smart. There are a lot of really brainy folks on the island who need to be at the polls, and there are even some who would do good work in our local government.
Try not to get too jaded. Sometimes elections can be very disappointing, even the hyper-local ones. But you’re not just one person. Your opinion matters. You’re a voter.