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Tuesday, June 18, 2013
For a discussion about the sad state of voter turnout, one need look no farther than Roanoke County and the statewide Democratic primary last Tuesday. Could it have been any more embarrassing?
There are 67,189 voters in the county. How many turned out? A total of 619. That's not in any one precinct, mind you. That's across 32 precincts. The final vote total was 646 because 27 people voted absentee. That's a rate of .96 percent.
Nobody is more upset about this than my friend Ron Adkins, secretary of the three-member Roanoke County Electoral Board. He's a former county Republican chairman.
Tuesday, Adkins made the rounds of most of Roanoke County's 32 precincts. And what did he see? Empty polling place after empty polling place.
You have to feel a bit sorry for those election officials, three per precinct, who manned the polls at $145 per day each ($170 for the chief official). The county should supply Xboxes or something so they can play "Call of Duty" to fight the boredom.
"This is the first time I ever went to an election and nobody came," Adkins said.
It's not specifically a Roanoke County problem. The state party called an election, rather than an even lower-turnout convention, as the state Republicans did to choose their statewide slate. Only 144,000 Democrats turned out statewide, a measly rate of 2.6 percent. But Democrats in Roanoke County couldn't muster even half that rate.
True, it was not a hot contest. This time around, nobody was challenging Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe.
Instead, there were two lower-ticket races: Sen. Ralph Northam, D-Norfolk, and Aneesh Chopra, a former Virginia secretary of technology, were vying for the lieutenant governor's nomination; while Sen. Mark Herring, D-Leesburg, and Justin Fairfax, a former federal prosecutor, were seeking the party's nod to run for attorney general. Northam and Herring won.
In Roanoke, which is about the same size but has more Democratic voters, more than three times the number of voters - 2,023 - showed up at the polls.
Let's look a little more deeply into the Roanoke County numbers.
Adkins has a word for that.
"It's pathetic," he told me. "I don't care if they're Republican or Democrat. They ought to get off their a-- and vote."
Dana Martin, chairman of the electoral board and a former county Democratic chairman, chalked the incredibly weak turnout up to three factors.
First was the relative unimportance of the offices up for nomination. Second, it was a Democratic primary in a Republican-leaning jurisdiction. Third, the candidates put minimal effort into turning out candidates in the county.
Martin's conclusion? "We should only be spending public money for statewide primary elections for federal offices," he said. "Primaries are predominantly a political party function. The parties should bear the expense."
As long as the turnout in primaries in Roanoke County is so pitiful, how could you not agree?
Good grief, less than 1 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. And you wonder why politics is such a godawful mess these days? One of the answers is right there.
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