Good day, Bryan County. In case you didn’t know — and judging by the turnout, you didn’t — the state of Georgia held its primary election on May 22 for several state and federal offices. A measly 18.5 percent of registered voters cast a ballot in that contest, and if history holds true then an even smaller figure will exercise the franchise in the upcoming July runoff.
It is not uncommon for primary elections to suffer from low participation, but what kept people from the polls this two months ago? Hoping to better understand, I informally surveyed 66 Georgians, 39 of whom live in Bryan County, to learn of their voting habits.
Forty-seven respondents (71 percent) were registered to vote in Georgia. Of those registered, only 16 of them (34 percent) participated in the May primary. Almost all of them conducted their research online and reported a positive in-person voting experience.
Thirty-one registered voters (66 percent) opted not to vote in the primary. When pressed for a reason, a clear pattern emerged — “busy, busy that day, didn’t know it was going on, not aware it was happening, working that day, out of town” and so on.
Thirteen respondents were eligible to vote but had not done so. In this group, the average age was 26 years old, including a few young men who recently graduated from Richmond Hill High School. When asked why they are not registered, most expressed lack of information about the registration process and felt they have no means to learn about the candidates.
The good news is that Georgia offers a few tools designed to make the voting process easier. The bad news is that awareness of those tools is low. Among the respondents, 56 percent knew that they can vote early, 35 percent knew they can request an absentee ballot even if in town, and 24 percent knew they can view their ballot ahead of time on the Secretary of State’s website. Not surprisingly, awareness was even lower among those who did not vote in May.
So what do we make of these numbers? Hopefully increasing awareness of the myriad ways to vote can help bring more people to the polls. In case some of these utilities are news to you, I recommend visiting www.mvp.sos.ga.gov. From there you can log in to confirm your registration status, find your polling place, view the candidates and issues on your ballot, and request an absentee ballot.
Lastly, talk to your friends, coworkers, neighbors and family. Let them know about these resources and encourage them to educate themselves and vote. The runoff is winding up, with early voting ending on Friday and Election Day on Tuesday, July 24. After that it’ll be a dead sprint to November and the general election. You’ll have a U.S. House seat, governor, lieutenant governor and various other state and local positions up for grabs.
Whether you notice or not, these people are voting on your behalf. Make sure you do your research and make your voice heard.
Barnes lives in Richmond Hill and has a passion for the political process.