The Georgia primary elections are six days away, and when ballots are cast Tuesday, candidates will learn whether their campaign signs, TV commercials and radio spots have paid off.
Though many voters already have decided who they will support for high-profile offices such as U.S. Senate and governor, the sheer number of candidates running for state school superintendent — and the lack of campaigning by these candidates — has left some community members discouraged.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” Hinesville resident Tom Black said. “Even though offices like president are important, the school superintendent is a position that affects us and our kids on a day-to-day basis.”
While the school superintendent’s position carries an air of significance, most voters see it as a low-profile contest when compared with congressional and even local-government races.
“For a midterm election, the state superintendent is overshadowed by the U.S. Senate and governor’s race, which is going to dominate the political headlines from now until November 4,” said Hinesville resident John Wood, an active member of Liberty County’s Republican Party.
Nine republicans are running: Mary Kay Bacallao, Ashley D. Bell, Michael L. Buck, Sharyl H. Dawes, Allen Bowles Fort, Nancy T. Jester, T. Fitz Johnson, Kira G. Willis and Richard L. Woods. Six Democrats are running: Tarnisha L. Dent, Marion Spencer “Denise” Freeman, Jurita Forehand Mays, Alisha Thomas Morgan, R. “Rita” Robinzine and Valarie D. Wilson.
With so many candidates to choose from, voters may feel overwhelmed, especially if not much is known about the people running.
“This is a classic case of overload,” Armstrong Atlantic State University political-science professor Dr. Daniel Skidmore-Hess said. “Casting a vote comes down to a function of awareness.”
According to Wood, budget restrictions may be holding back some political-office seekers.
“Because it is a lower-profile position, there’s not a lot of money for campaigning,” he said.
Insufficient campaigning on the part of superintendent candidates and the subsequent lack of awareness about them among voters likely has some Georgia residents wondering how they’ll make an informed decision at the ballot box.
“Thanks to the Internet, we have much easier access to information about candidates than ever before,” Skidmore-Hess said. “The best solution is for people to try and educate themselves before casting their vote.”
Hinesville Mayor Pro Tem Charles Frasier, who serves as chairman of the Liberty County Democratic Party, agrees.
“It’s true that there’s not a lot of money for advertising for the superintendent position, but we encourage those with access to a computer to get online and check out the candidates’ websites or to talk to their friends who have done some research before casting their vote,” he said.
Frasier said he often fields phone calls from people asking about candidates with whom they are unfamiliar, and he is happy to offer his insights.
“What we encourage people to do is seek out information, whether it be online or from a friend — whatever they need to do to make an informed decision,” he said.
Though it may be time-consuming for voters to research candidates on their own, Frasier and Skidmore-Hess agree that an ill-informed vote is worse than no vote at all.
“Putting on a blindfold and throwing a dart is a dangerous game,” Skidmore-Hess said. “Skipping that line on the ballot is probably the least-worst option.”
In cases where citizens are not as informed as they would like to be about a pool of candidates, Skidmore-Hess said voters often revert to various cues, which include party line, position on the ballot and voter identity.
“Oftentimes, people will vote for the person whose name sounds the most like their own,” he said. “New York is sort of notorious for this type of trend.”
While relying solely on campaign ads for information may be easier, political experts are quick to point out that those ads often are biased and do not present all the information voters should be armed with before heading to the polls.
“It would behoove everyone to try and get as much information as they can, through whatever source they have available to them,” Frasier said.
Information on all of the candidates running for state school superintendent can be found on the Professional Association of Georgia Educators’ website, www.pageinc.org.