Our Annual Rant
The primary elections are over in Greensboro and Winston-Salem, and we have the full cast of characters set for Election Day in November.
And judging by voter turnout numbers, most of you losers missed the whole thing.
In last week’s Greensboro primary, turnout edged just past 8 percent — fewer than 16,000 ballots cast in a city of 275,000. Pathetic, even lower than 2011, when just 11 percent turned out to winnow down the candidates who will have more control over our day-to-day lives than any other elected officials.
But in the Camel City things are even more dismal. In the September, the Winston-Salem primary election drew just 7.4 percent of the electorate, enough to make an informed voter weep. Astoundingly, 7.4 percent turnout is actually quite good for a Winston-Salem primary. The last one, in 2009, pulled just 3.7 percent of registered voters.
What makes the Winston-Salem situation even worse is that the city’s election is a partisan one, meaning that, for reasons of districting neighborhood voting history, the winners of the primary just about always go on to win the general election. There are no at-large seats on Winston- Salem City Council, removing yet another layer of choice from the process.
If only municipal elections were as popular as TV cooking shows, we might get a council that accurately represents the cities they serve. But they’re not, and we don’t.
This cannot be stressed enough: Municipal elections are the most important elections, affecting your life more than any other. And because they’re so unpopular, an individual vote actually means something. Last week in Greensboro, if District 5 candidate Alex Seymour got just 60 more votes — basically a barful of people — he’d have survived the primary and would be facing off against Tony Wilkins in November instead of Sal Leone. Of course, neither one stands a chance against Wilkins based on his primary numbers, which put him more than 800 votes ahead of both. Maybe 800 votes doesn’t sound like all that many people, but in District 5 as it stands, it’s an insurmountable lead.
Here’s the thing about politics: If you don’t care about them, they don’t care about you. Because politicians need to be elected, they focus their efforts — both on the campaign trail and in office — on the people who engage with the system. When entire subgroups voluntarily surrender their franchise, they give up their collective voice, their place at the table.
The Greensboro noise ordinance is a perfect example. The law shutting down amplified “noise” after 11 p.m popular with older downtown residents and other factions throughout the city who may not ever go downtown after 11 p.m., ever — but they do come out and vote.
It’s unpopular with everyone who participates in the culture the law assaults: clubgoers, musicians and their fans, people who appreciate and actively support vibrant nightlife. But even though the ordinance was ratified by a 7-2 council vote just a month ago, none of its supporters suffered for it at the ballot box in last week’s primary. If everyone in the bars and clubs on any given Friday night had voted in this election, the outcome would have been very different.
But they didn’t. And come Election Day, they likely won’t — which means they don’t exist in the minds of those running for office. They have marginalized themselves.