A good way to lay a finger on the pulse of the electoral public is to look at elections held county-wide, in which every voter has an opportunity to cast a ballot in a race.
Afterward, examine not just the winners and losers, but the number of votes. It tells a story of interest, apathy - and indecision.
In Columbia County's Nov. 7 General Election, 31,640 voters cast ballots. But no single item on the entire ballot received 31,640 total votes. That means some voters skipped some races entirely.
Of those, some used the write-in function on the electronic voting machines. Many more voters simply avoided making a decision in a race and left it blank.
So, where were the highest number of votes cast in any countywide race in Columbia County? It was in the first item on the ballot: the race for governor, with 31,491 votes. Of those, 23,968, or just more than 76 percent, were for Gov. Sonny Perdue; 6,871, or about 22 percent, were for Mark Taylor; and 626 were for the Libertarian.
That means just 149 of those voting failed to sound off, while 26 wrote in another candidate's name.
Second in the total number of countywide votes cast was the 10th District U.S. House race between incumbent Charlie Norwood and his Democratic challenger, Terry Holley. In that race, 31,344 voters made their choice between the two, giving Norwood 79 percent; 396 voters couldn't make up their minds, and 17 used the write-in option.
Third place for most votes was the race for state school superintendent, in which 31,263 people voted; 377 voters couldn't decide. In the lieutenant governor's race, 31,238 people voted, and 402 skipped the race.
Compare these numbers to some local races. In the four-way race for superior court judge, 2,984 voters decided not to cast a ballot. David Roper finished 6,169 votes ahead of Bill Williams, so while there still would have been a runoff, the non-voters could have made a difference in who Roper would face.
That's also the case in the race for the school board chairmanship, in which 3,424 voters couldn't make up their minds, and another 43 used the write-in option.
More voters made a decision on the bond referendums, but even there an average of 1,700 voters skipped the questions - ranging from a high of 29,997 voting on the transportation bond, to just 29,832 voicing an opinion on the public safety bond. The non-votes weren't enough to change the outcome, but they show how difficult the choice was.
One more thing: Though County Commission Chairman Ron Cross was unopposed in the General Election, 6,301 voters chose not to cast a ballot in that race, while 544 wrote in other choices. Those write-ins were by far the highest number in any race in the county; a distant second was unopposed state Sen. Jim Whitehead, whose race received 248 write-in votes.
One more fact emerged from the election: The flaggers' cause is dead.
The flaggers, you may recall, took credit for the defeat of former Gov. Roy Barnes in 2002 because of his backroom deal to change Georgia's flag.
The flaggers then turned on Perdue, accusing him of lying when he accepted a legislative compromise that resulted in our current flag.
When Perdue beat flagger candidate Ray "States Rights" McBerry in the Republican primary, the flaggers predicted their votes would topple Perdue in the general election.
Instead, Perdue received 1.2 million votes statewide, or 58 percent. Four years ago, Perdue received a little more than 1 million votes, or 51.4 percent.
So Perdue received 200,000 more votes in 2006 with the flaggers against him than he did in 2002 when they were for him.
With enemies like those, who needs friends?
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal at newstimesonline.com.)
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