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Touch Screen Blues

by Angela Lindsay

May 5,2006

It took me a minute to locate the polling place in my new voting precinct on primary election day. There were, after all, no campaign flyers being shoved in my hand, very few campaign signs in the parking lot, and, most notably, no long line of cars or people vying to get a good place in line. In fact, I was the very first person in my precinct to vote that day and try out the new touch screen voting machines. The poll workers seemed delighted, surprised even, that I had shown up. And they didn’t seem convinced that many more people would follow my lead.

Later that night, news reports confirmed what the poll workers seemed to already know: less than 4% of Mecklenburg County registered voters actually exercised that right on May 2nd, according to the Mecklenburg Board of Elections (MBOE). Perhaps residents took the position that “It’s just the primaries,” if they even knew about the election at all. A defiant few flat-out told me that they were not going to vote, an interesting stance considering some of our city’s biggest decisions are made by the people who end up in office. The primaries are important because in some instances they determine whether or not a certain candidate moves on to the general election in November.

If we as citizens want to have a voice in what happens to our city in the future, we have to be pro-active. One of the most effective and easiest ways to do that is to exercise your right to vote . . . every time. Otherwise, it’s hard for the other 96% who were too apathetic to vote to justify complaining when decisions are made that could affect them and those they care about.

It wasn’t too long ago when citizens let their voices be heard loud and clear on local issues via the polls. For instance, the new Bobcats arena project was originally voted down and voters rejected the latest school bond. Many residents were, of course, incensed when the arena deal went through anyway, and, on any given day, Charlotteans boldly voice their concern with the decisions of some elected officials on talk radio and in newspapers. But to begin to get whatever the desired results, voters must begin by taking the five minutes out of the day it requires to participate in the civic process.

Typically, primaries generate low turnout percentages across the board, but there is so much going on in Charlotte that those of us who live here should relish the chance to help decide who leads our city and in what direction. It would be nice to see the momentum and interest expressed from the floods of voters that turned out on other voting days “to make a difference” rather than the trickle of people that turned out for this past primary.

Before I worked on the committee for a local campaign last year, I underestimated the commitment it takes for a person to want to run for public office in the first place and the stamina it must require to withstand the pressure of both public scrutiny and the desire to make the right choices for our city. Some people are understandably cynical about government and politicians, at this point. I heard some people say that the primary vote really would not have made much of a difference in terms of who wins and still others said wanted to send a message that they were not happy with the bureaucracy of the city. But it seems those reasons are as good as any to compel a trip to the polls.

Mayor Pat McCrory once said, "Charlotte is on the move." If that is true, then now is not the time for residents' interest in matters political to become sluggish or sporadic. During an interview, Michael Dickerson, Director of Elections for the MBOE predicted that the record low turnout we experienced is to be expected about every 10 years and that the general election would produce healthier results. Hopefully, the dismal turnout was just a once-in-a-decade fluke and Charlotteans really are a lot more interested in what happens with our city. Guess we'll have to wait until November to see.

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