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Turnout historically low for N. Augusta elections

February 05,2017 16:21

That would be about 7.6 percent of the 16,000 or so registered voters in the city, according to figures provided by Dr. John Younginer, the chairman of the Municipal Election Commission. In 2011, the last time a mayor was on the ballot, 10 percent of ...and more »

If recent historic voting patterns hold true, about 1,200 or so North Augustans will go to Riverview Park on Tuesday to cast ballots for mayor and three council members.
That would be about 7.6 percent of the 16,000 or so registered voters in the city, according to figures provided by Dr. John Younginer, the chairman of the Municipal Election Commission.
In 2011, the last time a mayor was on the ballot, 10 percent of voters turned out, the highest turnout by far since then. About 1,600 people voted in that race.
In 2013, when three council seats were open, just 862 people voted – a turnout of just over 5 percent. In 2015, again with three council seats on the ballot, 1,199 people voted, a 7.5 percent turnout.
The city does not collect data on the age, gender or race of voters, and because it does not have districts – all candidates run at large, meaning they are voted on by everyone – inferences cannot be drawn reliably.
Some officials have said this year’s turnout might top all recent numbers because it is the first time someone other than Lark Jones has run for mayor in 20 years, and because there has been community disagreement over Project Jackson.
At a Thursday night forum by the North Augusta Republican Party, Chairman Walker Posey bemoaned that strife and encouraged a packed house at the Municipal Center to come together.
After all, every candidate is a Republican.
“This is not a Project Jackson election,” he said. “I’m a little disappointed in the community negativity at this point. Whether you like it or not, our community is divided. In the past we’ve had issues but we’ve always been able to come together for the good of the community. I hope we can come together as a party to reunite.”
He also addressed a concern that Tuesday’s election could be challenged because only one precinct will be open. But there’s a difference between a primary and a statewide general election, Posey said.
In a primary, the city’s Municipal Election Commission is allowed much more latitude in setting the rules.
“Lawmakers know cities don’t have the money to hold primary elections with all precincts open … It’s a pretty heavy financial burden,” Posey said.
The city will still have a general election in March, but because all the candidates in the primary are from the same party, none will have opponents.
Brett Brannon and Bob Pettit are running for mayor. Brannon is a developer who built Jackson Square and the new University Hospital across Buena Vista Avenue. He owns Georgia-Carolina Physical Therapy.
Pettit is a retired Air Force colonel who also was division manager in the Augusta office of Science Applications International Corp., a high-tech firm, and handled contracts involving environmental cleanup at Savannah River Site.
The two agree generally about Project Jackson, revitalizing downtown and connecting the Greeneway to it. They have disagreed about how to handle the city’s out-of-date Comprehensive Plan, which puts the city in violation of state law.
At the end of Thursday’s forum, Brannon made a plea for North Augustans to vote, citing the historically low turnout numbers. Pettit then rose and told the audience that Brannon had never voted in North Augusta.
On Friday, Pettit said on his Facebook page that “Public records show he has NEVER voted in an election in Aiken County. It is a fact: he only registered to vote in Aiken County on November 4, 2016.”
Brannon, who owns a house in Columbia County as well as North Augusta, said he hasn’t done anything wrong.
“I’ve voted legally in every election in which I’ve participated and I meet all of the qualifications to run for mayor of North Augusta,” Brannon said.
Pettit was late with required filings to the state Ethics Commission, missing a deadline to report contributions.
“As soon as I was advised of that oversight, I immediately filed the necessary forms,” he said, and the commission’s records show he corrected the problem Feb. 1.
Reach James Folker at (706) 823-3338 or james.folker@augustachronicle.com.

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