In case you haven’t been reading the Courier, a special election was held Tuesday to fill the vacant District 5 council seat on the Hinesville City Council. The top two vote-getters, Karl Riles and Bobby Ryon, will face each other again in a run-off on April 16.
I wish both men good luck; they – and the other four candidates who ran – are to be commended for stepping up to serve their city.
My issue is this: only around 10 percent of District 5’s 3,649 registered voters took the time to vote. So to be even clearer about the poor turnout, only 272 people voted from Feb. 25 through March 15, and just 135 people voted on Election Day, March 19.
I understand that whoever fills the seat after April 16 will serve the remainder of the term until November, when a municipal election is held and the incumbent can choose to run again.
I also understand that many residents in Hinesville and Liberty County are active duty military, and they vote absentee in their homes of record. But what about our permanent residents? Many of whom are veterans and served honorably so the rest of us can exercise our right to freely vote and have input in our government, our society?
Voting was a hard won right for many of us - women and minorities. By not voting, we put their centuries of suffering and struggle to shame.
The women’s suffrage movement began before the Civil War. Women, meaning our grandmothers and great-grandmothers, were finally granted the right to vote on August 26, 1920, when the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified. Prior to that, suffragettes endured jail, beatings and other abuse as they advocated for the right to vote.
And we should remind ourselves that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is – in retrospect – recent history. It’s just 54 years ago when African Americans were allowed to exercise their right to vote, a right that was guaranteed under the 15th Amendment to the Constitution but routinely and aggressively circumvented by many states and a multitude of local communities. (The 15th Amendment was ratified in 1870. That’s nearly a century-old gap from ratification to enforcement.)
Think of the generations of people who fought to have this right, many of whom are – again – our ancestors, great-grandparents, grandparents and parents.
We should also look to the future; with the 2020 presidential election on the horizon, one in 10 eligible voters will be our youth, citizens known as “Generation Z” who are between 18 and 23 years of age next year, according to the Pew Research Center.
And, people of color will have a greater impact on the electorate this next election. Hispanics make up a third of eligible voters, according to pewsocialtrends.org.
“We project that the 2020 election will mark the first time that Hispanics will be the largest racial or ethnic minority group in the electorate, accounting for just over 13 percent of eligible voters – slightly more than blacks,” according to Pew’s website. “This change reflects the gradual but continuous growth in the Hispanic share of eligible voters, up from 9 percent in the 2008 presidential election and 7 percent in the 2000 election. The black eligible voter population has grown about as fast as the electorate overall, meaning their share has held constant at about 12 percent since 2000.”
Another trend the Pew researchers are following is the portion of the electorate that is aging.
“In 2020, nearly a quarter of the electorate will be ages 65 and older, the highest such share since at least 1970. This reflects not only the maturation of the large Baby Boom generation but also increased life expectancy among older Americans,” according to pewsocialtrends.org.
There is so much at stake these days. Not just who will next serve in the White House, but the policies our state lawmakers and our local elected officials put in play that impacts our everyday lives, and shapes our children’s future.
If we don’t vote, we willingly give up. If we don’t try to make our voices heard, then we shouldn’t complain. That privilege should be granted to those who do engage in democracy.
For information on registering to vote, visit the Georgia Secretary of State website at sos.ga.gov or visit the Voter Registration and Elections page at libertycountyga.com, or call 912-876-3310. Long County residents can go to the Voter Registration and Elections page at longcountyboc.com or call 912-545-2143.
Etheridge is the editor of the Coastal Courier. She and her husband have two grown children, the most beautiful granddaughter in the world, a teddy bear of a rescue dog, a grumpy old cat that guards the house, and a young agile cat that pesters the grumpy one.