Early voting ended Thursday. And while voter turnout in Chattanooga's municipal election will be a fraction of the presidential race last November or the Georgia runoff last month, the impact cannot be overstated.
The final early voting figures will be out in a matter of hours. Times Free Press reporter Sarah Grace Taylor reported that heading into the final day of early voting, turnout was stronger than in the previous two city elections.
But even if the 2017 totals — when about 19.6% of Chattanooga residents participated in the city elections — jump 10%, that number is barely more than 1-in-5 registered voters who will decide our next mayor.
Think about that, fewer than 20,000 votes for more than a dozen candidates who combined have raised more than half a million dollars. Forget commercials, if you could ID those 20,000 who fulfill their civic duty — and the fact that local government has way more impact on our daily lives than federal government — and hand each $25, well, there you go.
Ticket punched to City Hall.
I spent several days before and during early voting asking Chattanoogans if they planned to vote. Maybe you saw me outside Northgate Mall or roaming downtown. I was the good-looking one.
This was far from a formal survey — I was in jeans and a T-shirt rather than a suit — and I did not ask a single person which candidate he or she was voting for. I just wanted to know if they were going to vote.
Of the 45 people who talked to me, a third said they were going to vote, either in the early period or on election day — next Tuesday. Personally, I think that's high. By a bunch.
Of the 45, 12 were unaware that an election was on the horizon. I think that's low.
"I thought we voted on that in November," one nice fellow downtown told me.
He has a point. That almost as many people were unaware there was an election as were planning on voting in it is sad. It also seems to underscore the need for coordinating our elections — federal, state, county and municipal. Sure, the logistics and details are tricky, but shouldn't we all support ways to make voting easy and inclusive?
I think we know the answer to that — specialized, off-calendar dates tend to favor established candidates — but since it benefits those already in power or with powerful associates, well, when was the last time powerful folks willingly ceded that power? I'll wait.
The other thing that became clear was the myriad issues facing our city at a critical time.
Be they emerging from the pandemic, the growing number of empty storefronts downtown, a lack of affordable housing or diversity, even those unaware of the upcoming election were familiar with the challenges our next mayor and city council face.
This is much deeper than potholes, friends, and following eight years of status quo, a bold vision will be needed.
Emerging from the pandemic will be first, something that a business background would help as it would addressing downtown needs and a looming Chattanooga Lookouts stadium discussion.
There is our racial divide, something that a diverse background will help address.
I am not saying it's an easy decision, friends.
I'm saying it's a very important one, and if you are eligible, let your voice be heard.
Contact Jay Greeson at email@example.com.