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Editorial: Rowan should aim higher for voter turnout in 2019

Across Rowan County in 2017, voter turnout was good by comparison. There were thousands of ballots cast and the turnout of 15.92% actually ranked high for voter participation in recent municipal races.

Importantly, our local system of democracy worked, too. People registered to vote within the limits of a local town cast their ballot. In short order, new officeholders were sworn in and the process of governing began.

But the democratic process involved and continues to involve too few people at the local level. It’s not good enough to have nearly 16% of eligible voters turn out.

For municipal offices, that’s been the case for too long. In 2015, just 5,443, or 14.26% of Rowan’s eligible registered voters cast a ballot in their town’s election. That means, while there were a few thousand people registered in the China Grove voting precinct, some of whom live outside the town limits, the top vote-getter received just 124 votes. Second place received 120 votes. Third place received 100 votes.

Out of many, just a couple hundred chose who would make decisions about new developments, how money is spent on public services and any number of other policy matters.

In Salisbury, consider the 2013 election, where the field was similar to today’s — five incumbents and four challengers. Turnout was just 13.41%. Of the 20,747 people registered to vote in the city at that time, just 2,783 did so.

It’s discouraging that so few people vote in local elections. The decisions made by and discussions among city and town council members regularly affect the daily lives of local people. New businesses can build structures and rehabilitate existing ones, in part, because the council approves zoning requests. The Salisbury City Council could (and has) approved funding requests through budgets or amendments that make improvements to parks local folks use frequently. And members of a city or town council are often sounding boards for citizen concerns, especially when streets are in a state of disrepair.

There are too many reasons to vote in local elections and plenty of time to do so, particularly because early voting is open to everyone (no excuse needed). Early voting starts today and continues weekdays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. until Nov. 1 as well as Saturday Oct. 26 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

It’s important to be informed about candidate views, too. A good way to do that is to attend candidate forums or read the Salisbury Post’s special election section that will be published Oct. 25 as an insert inside of the newspaper. The Rowan County Board of Elections has a list of candidates with contact information that it posts on its website (rowancountync.gov/193/Board-of-Elections) for those seeking a personal touch.

Relatively high election turnouts aren’t too far in our past; in 2001, 23% of eligible voters cast a ballot in Rowan County’s municipal elections. While our community should collectively aim higher than that — to the 35% turnout of 1989, for example — a 20% voter turnout in a municipal election is a good first step.

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