Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Columbia’s Mayor’s race shows lack of participation in municipal elections

Columbia is the capital city of South Carolina, and with a population within its city limits estimated at 127,000, Columbia is the largest incorporated area in South Carolina. As such, the Columbia area media gave heavy coverage to the race. As a result, a high turnout for South Carolina municipal elections occurred. Of the estimated 127,000 people that live in Columbia, a whopping 16,434, or 13 percent of the population, turned out to vote for Columbia’s next Mayor.

Sadly, such a turnout is strong for such an election. South Carolina towns and cities that have “off date” elections not associated with primary dates and general elections in the fall have a hard time getting voters to the polls. People simply are not in “election mode.” Some municipal leaders like it that way, so they can get their small group of motivated supporters to the polls and win government office over the vast majority who did not vote for them.

Most people are complacent with that because, frankly, we read major media. State and national primaries get the attention of the newspapers, the television and the blogs. Thus, we have an electorate in which the majority knows very little about the elected officials who control their local police, fire departments, parks and water and sewer services. The majority of people pay large amounts of money for municipal taxes, water and sewer fees and other municipal fees, without even knowing who set those taxes and fees, much less actually voting to choose those officials.

Some will blame voter apathy. That is a legitimate problem. However, the problem is encouraged my municipal governments that hold off date elections. Even those who care about elections have the mindset that the elections that really matter are the primaries that are held in June and the general elections that are held in November of even numbered years. If a municipality holds an election at another time, even the voter who cares, with her busy life, is more likely to miss the date than not. The numbers are clear on such. There are a large number of South Carolina voters who vote in the primaries and in the general elections and do not vote in municipal elections, despite the fact that the municipal elections decide the officials who will be the most involved in the voters’ daily lives.

A uniform municipal election date would help that problem. But, frankly, that is not going to happen anytime soon.

What is going to happen in Columbia is a runoff between Steve Benjamin and Kirkman Finlay in two weeks. One of those men is going to be the next Mayor of South Carolina’s capitol city. VUI predicts Benjamin because of his ground operation, but whoever the winner is, they will be elected by less than eight percent of the population of Columbia. A relatively handful of voters will decide who sits at the head of a multimillion dollar budget and effects the lives of tens of thousands of people who never voted for them or against them. That is something to think on.


  1. Arsenal HillApril 07, 2010

    Mr. McCarty, I think you miss the racial issue that will develop in the runoff. You are right about few voters. But, trust me, white people and black people will fight over this race over the next few weeks. The numbers who show up might be higher. This is about the heart and soul, and yes, the work ethic, of Columbia.

  2. Jimmy the GeekApril 07, 2010


    I also think, though, that there is something to be said for a motivated, informed electorate. If municipal elections were held along with general elections in even-numbered years, they would be lost in the fray of the up-ballot races. Plus, if turnout were higher, like in a general election, that would strongly favor candidates with the money advantage. When else would an average guy like me know about Sparkle Clark and Nammu Muhammed?

    Having a municipal election in an unusual time of year at least has the benefit of the voters knowing what's going on and not just voting for the sake of voting, as they do on downballot races in generals.