Super Tuesday Delivers Shrunken Turnout

Nicholas Watson

The stroke of 7 a.m. on March 6 at Clarke Central High looked like a normal day of school at the District 3A polling place. Little would change over the course of the day, as 84 voters, according to the Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections, approached the ballot box at CCHS on Super Tuesday 2012.

Only 6,985 cast a ballot for the presidential preference primary in a pool of 56,386 registered voters, producing a turnout of 12.39 percent. The rate was nearly four times higher in 2008, according to the Board of Elections, giving a turnout of 49.32 percent.

“I just didn’t hear the interest in this election like we have in the past,” Gail Schrader said, supervisor of elections for Athens-Clarke County. “Since the Democratic nominee was already selected … especially in Athens where we are known as a Democratic county, I think a lot of people just sat this one out.”

Young voters in Georgia accounted for 70,000 ballots, approximately 5 percent of the population under 30. Dismal estimates, according to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement, in Georgia are identical to the approximate 5 percent seen nationwide.

“I doubt very seriously that we’ll see the same level of enthusiasm this year as we saw in 2008,” said Kevin Poole, professor of political science at the University. “You have to have some perspective about people’s participation when we’re in such a crisis.”

UGA College Republicans held a voter registration drive on Feb. 1 and 2, adding around 200 citizens to the registry.

“You definitely come across people who don’t care, and you can tell,” said David Bishop, activism director for UGACR. “A lot of times they won’t outright tell you that they’re not going to vote, but they just sort of shrug it off.”

Pushing past the apathy are complaints from many that abysmal voter turnout links to voter ID laws and decreases in accessibility. Rep. John Lewis said to USA Today that these laws were “robbing Americans of a basic constitutional right.”

“Over time, we’ve found that making voting easier helps [turnout],” said Edward Burmila, professor of political science at the University. “Letting people vote on different days, like early voting, really helped people to get out and vote.”

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed House Bill 92 in May 2011, reducing the early voting window from 45 days to 21. Supporters of the bill, according to the AJC, touted the cost and confusion reduction.

“I think three weeks of early voting is a lot of time, [and] we also included an additional Saturday this time,” Schrader said. “You can kind of get a gauge for [interest] in the weeks prior to an election — and you know — people just really weren’t talking about it that much in Athens.”

Georgia joins seven other states in the strictest of voter ID laws, requiring voters to present government-issued ID to vote. The Peach State, according to the AJC, led the way in stronger voter ID regulations, being among the first to enact it in 2006.

Supporters of the legislation note the reduction in voter fraud cases, while those against them – like Rep. Lewis – believe that it keeps away the poor, elderly and racial minorities.

“I can attest that every year we investigate and penalize hundreds of people guilty of election and voter fraud,” said Brian Kemp, Georgia Secretary of State, to the Washington Post. PolitiFact, a fact-checking site for political news, found that at least 200 people were penalized each in the last three years.

The crux of the argument against stronger voter ID laws is the lack of documentation. To obtain a driver’s license, voter ID, or any other acceptable identification, a citizen must have access to a passport, naturalization paper or a birth certificate.

The Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law released a study in 2006 that showed that 7 percent of U.S. citizens do not have ready access to citizenship documents. The study also found that 11 percent of citizens do not have government-issued ID and that 33 percent of voting-age women do not have documentation of a current legal name after marriage.

Registration remains low in Athens-Clarke County. The latest census revealed that the voting-age population for the county was 96,289, creating a 58.56 percent registration rate.

“To be honest, I actually didn’t know it was a voting day ‘til it passed,” said Serena Rutter, junior linguistics major from Dacula. “Had I known, I definitely would have voted because I know enough about the candidates to know what I want. I just don’t know enough about the elections process to know when to go do that.”

Out-of-state students or those registered elsewhere to vote can do so with an absentee ballot, although this hasn’t been utilized fully in recent primaries.

“There wasn’t a real interest for absentee ballots for any age group,” Schrader said of the latest Super Tuesday. “The absentee voting is wonderful. The law has made it easy for anybody who wants to vote absentee.”
Schrader also believes that as we creep closer and closer to November, voters will begin to emerge to cast their ballots.

“Generally, the best way to get people to vote is to ask them,” Burmila said. “There is something psychologically-based when people ask us to do it that forces us to do it. And campaigns are aware of this.”

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