Exercising the right (in off years)

Published 12:46 am Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Some saw it as an opportunity to shape local politics. Some came just to exercise their right to vote. Others simply considered it their civic duty, regardless of the issues.

But when the voting was over, 20 percent of registered voters in Beaufort County voted in this year’s election, according to county elections officials.

“I’m a proud voter,” said Mary H. Johnson, outside the Washington Ward 1 polling place, the Improved Order of the Red Men’s lodge. “To me, it’s just a blessing to be able to vote, and I pray that things get better and better.”

Johnson and Mildred Downey were from the ranks of the after-work voting crowd. Until the post-5 p.m. rush, campaigners, candidates and poll workers said traffic through the precincts had been slow throughout the day, but low voter turnout was expected as local municipal seats were the only ones up for grabs in Tuesday’s elections.

City Council candidate Ed Moultrie, greeting voters at the Beaufort County Boys and Girls Club in Washington, the Ward 3 polling place, attributed the small numbers to an off-year election, the fact that no major issues faced voters and the mayor, Archie Jennings, was running unopposed. Moultrie spent the day travelling from ward to ward, campaigning to retain his seat on the city council.

Outside Ward 2, candidates Bobby Roberson and Richard Brooks commented on the voters trickling in the polling place inside the fire station on Market Street. At 6 p.m., Roberson said traffic had been slow, but he didn’t conjecture as to why. Brooks simply shook his head and said, “Wish I knew. I would go stir them up.”

During the day, campaigners for the various candidates sometimes outnumbered the voters at the various precincts. City resident Dee Congleton promoted the slate of the current City Council — Bobby Roberson, Ed Moultrie, William Pitt, Doug Mercer and Gil Davis —alongside candidate Lloyd May’s parents who had come from Greenville to help May’s first run for office.

Though no prevalent issues determined how Tuesday’s voters marked their ballots, they were united in the desire to choose their city councilmen wisely, recognizing that local elections affect their lives often more than state and national ones.

“We want to make sure we’ve go the right people on the council,” said Brenda Thompson, who had accompanied her mother-in-law, Pearlie Thompson, to the polls. “We always vote. We want to vote.”

“All the issues matter,” said Downey, outside the Ward 1 polling place, when asked what issues weighted her vote, “but we have to make decisions on who they come from.”