Advance voters came out in record numbers last week to cast ballots in three Statesboro City Council elections. More than 900 residents voted, which is a little less that 12 percent of eligible voters. Judy McCorkle said Statesboro council elections usually draw a 12-percent total turnout, and with Tuesday’s Election Day upcoming, the city should see solid final turnout numbers when all votes are counted.
The primary reason behind the large turnout is no secret – an energized voting bloc of Georgia Southern University students. About 2,500 new voters registered between September 1 and October 9 in the three districts with contested council races. Almost 90 percent of the new voters are between the ages of 18 and 25.
Why the students are energized also is no secret – they are upset with the city’s unnecessary crackdown on restaurants/bars that serve alcohol. The three candidates that have aligned themselves most closely with the students – incumbent Will Britt in District 3, and challengers Nathan Queen in District 2 and Travis Chance in District 5 – have used the alcohol issue to promote their political fortunes. There are many other important issues in the election, but alcohol is what has galvanized student interest in voting like never before.
The other candidates – incumbents Gary Lewis in District 2 and John Morris in District 5 and challenger Harry Propes in District 3 – have tried to counter the surge in student voters by appealing to longtime Statesboro residents to get out and vote. They are trying to stir up their base by warning of a council dominated by a “college agenda” that would hurt the city if the student-backed candidates win.
The campaigns on all sides have turned primarily negative, with charges and counter charges flying about.
Also, looming over the entire election process is the challenge of 909 voter registrations by a group calling itself the Statesboro Citizens for Good Government. The group specifically targeted Georgia Southern students in their challenges. We urged the group to drop its challenges in an earlier editorial and we reiterate that appeal. There are numerous legal decisions – including one from the U.S. Supreme Court – that always favor students when it comes to voting in the city/county where they go to college.
We acknowledge the members of the group believe they are doing the right thing. But for all their protestations about not wanting to deny students their right to vote, their actions demonstrate clearly that’s precisely what they want. If they pursue the challenges, Statesboro may see civil rights groups descending on our town and that would be bad for all city and county residents.
There are plenty of issues in Statesboro besides alcohol that citizens should be concerned with – economic development, possible future annexation and traffic to name three. But come Tuesday, if a registered college student wants to vote for a candidate who wants to completely revamp the alcohol ordinance or if a 35-year city resident wants to vote for a candidate who doesn’t, we urge them to come to the polls.
Fewer and fewer people – as a percentage of population in our nation, our state, our county and our town – care to take advantage of the right to vote. While we all are free to disagree with someone’s motivation to vote, everyone should be encouraged to vote. On Tuesday, we urge all registered voters in Statesboro City Council Districts 2, 3 and 5 to vote.