The Aug. 20 primary election is just around the corner, and Columbia Countians who haven't decided whom they will vote for will get one last opportunity to hear from the candidates during an open forum Tuesday at the Savannah Rapids Pavilion.
Sponsored by the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce, the two-hour candidate forum will begin at 7 p.m. All county candidates have been invited to attend. According to Jerry Hardin, the chairman of the Chamber's Columbia County Government Affairs Committee, candidates will be given two minutes to make an opening statement before the questions begin.
"We're hoping to have some good questions from the floor," Hardin said. "We will also have some prepared questions."
Among those who are expected to participate in the forum are Columbia County Commission District 1 candidates Frank Spears and Steve Brown; County Commission District 3 candidates Mark Devoti, Peggy Lichtenberg and Tony Mundy; Columbia County Commission chairman candidates Ron Cross and Andy Kingery; and District 24 state Senate incumbent Joey Brush, R-Appling, and his opponent, Anna Hargis of Harlem. U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Evans, and state Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans, also are expected to attend. Barry Paschal, the publisher of The Columbia County News-Times, will serve as moderator during the event.
"In our county, with the majority of voters being Republican, things are usually settled after the primary, so it is important to have a forum before the election," said Chris Noah, the past chairman of the Columbia County Government Affairs Committee and a member of the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce's Board of Directors. "In the past, we have had anywhere from 150 to 200 people attend these forums. That's a pretty good turnout and we hope to have the same this time."
Deborah Marshall, the director of the Columbia County Board of Elections, will set up the new electronic voting machine and answer any questions those attending the forum might have about how to use the new machine.
"This forum is part of the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce's overall voter participation process," Hardin said. "We have been working with Bill Morris, the assistant superintendent of Columbia County Schools, to get the schools involved in encouraging voter participation. We also are asking businesses to use their marquees and bulletin boards to get the message out to their employees."
With voter participation at an all-time low, Hardin said it is imperative that all avenues are used to encourage voters to participate in the Aug. 20 primary.
"It's just a shame to have those levels of turnout anywhere in the country, but especially in Columbia County," he said. "It's a shame we don't have more people interested in going to the polls. We are trying to do as much as we can to encourage them."
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