How much does it cost to win a Hamilton County election?
Perhaps a better question is: how much should it cost?
Let's study the May primary election, specifically the three most dramatic races: county mayor, sheriff and County Commission.
Thanks to a near-vacant Democratic ballot, many of the Republicans who won the primary also, by extension, won the fall election. There's no one else for them to defeat. So for some, spending money in the primary was the same as spending money on the fall election.
During his campaign to remain mayor, Jim Coppinger spent $72,868 between January and April 2014, according to financial documents disclosed with the Hamilton County Election Commission.
It paid off: he won 15,003 votes.
The math? That's roughly $4.85 per vote, about the same as a gallon of milk.
His opponent, the perennial Basil Marceaux, won 1,442 votes in comparison, and apparently spent very little, if any, money on his campaign. Since he spent less than $1,000, his financials are blank, save six words hand-written in blue ink.
"No money will ever be taken," it reads, almost like prophecy. Or a Joan Baez lyric.
In the county sheriff's race, Jim Hammond won 11,588 votes, more than twice his opponent. Hammond spent $36,797 on the race, which comes out to about $3.17 per vote.
Newcomer Randy Fairbanks won a District 1 County Commission spot. He spent $11,410 to win 1,249 votes.
That's $9.13 a vote. It must have been worth every penny, as he won by 51 votes against longtime incumbent Fred Skillern, who spent more than $16,000.
In District 2, Jim Fields ran unopposed, and spent $3,713.
In District 3, Marty Haynes ran unopposed, and spent $558. Haynes won with 2,091 votes, which equates to about 25 cents per vote. Pretty good for a fiscal conservative.
Joe Graham kept his District 5 commission seat, running unopposed. Between January and March, he spent $35 on his campaign. That's right, $35.
"Bank fees," he said.
Graham isn't opposed to spending money on campaigns; yet in this primary election, he had no opponent, so he tried to stay out of the way, and campaign the old-fashioned way.
"Meeting the people and talking to them," he said.
In District 4, Warren Mackey spent $6,326 on his campaign from January to March; his April reports have not been turned in.
To win again as District 5 commissioner, Greg Beck spent $10,646 ... at least. Part of his financial reports are incomplete as well.
Beck won 1,597 votes, almost 900 more than his closest opponent. That works out to $6.66 per vote.
To win the District 6 Democrat primary, John Allen Brooks spent $10,911.
He won with 350 votes.
That works out to $31 a vote.
(Remember, his opponent this fall is Joe Graham, the same man who's spent $35 on his entire primary campaign.)
To be the Republican candidate in the fight for District 7, Sabrena Turner spent $17,109. This fall, she'll face Ezra Maize, who spent $442 during April, but has not disclosed financials for the first three months of 2014. (For those of you counting at home, that's the third Democrat with incomplete financials.)
Tim Boyd kept his District 8 seat, spending $17,483 to fend off Curtis Adams. He won with 883 votes, each valued at $19.79.
His Democrat opponent Kenny Smith spent $3,098 in the first three months of the campaign.
Last but not least, District 9 incumbent Chester Bankston spent $2,722 to earn 1,865 votes. His Democratic challenger Melinda Bone spent ... well, it doesn't say. A candidate spending less than $1,000 isn't required to disclose that amount.
Tough, because the worst is still to come.
We complain and complain about keeping money out of politics. But here, instead of keeping money out, we need to put people in.
There are 219,708 registered voters in Hamilton County. Guess how many showed up on election day.
"The number of ballots cast was 24,045," said Charlotte Mullis-Morgan, chief deputy of the election commission.
That's 9 percent of voters. Not even double digits.
I couldn't give five farthings how much Candidate A spends if the people on our side of the street -- the public, the citizens -- don't go to the polls. How much is our vote worth?
Right now, we're making it the cheapest deal of all.
Contact David Cook at email@example.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.
David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...