Apathy plagues election results

Published 12:19 am Wednesday, June 4, 2008

By 5 p.m. Tuesday only approximately 160 voters had trickled into Frazier Primary School in Ward 2.

At 3 p.m. nearly 700 had voted at the Elk’s Lodge in Ward 3.

Head counting at the polls is often a favorite sport of political junkies — a title I don’t bestow on myself.

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But this time around, I was a bit curious about the numbers.

The local political circle is one I cover from the outside. I’m not from Natchez, so I have no personal allegiances to anyone in town. I decide how I’ll vote based on interviews our staff conducts with the candidates in local elections about the issues.

But, it’s part of my job to know what’s happening in local politics, and when incumbent Mayor Phillip West lost in the primary my interest was peaked.

Anytime an incumbent is ousted, the community wants change. That’s a no-brainer. But West carried a trait no other candidate has — he is black.

And — like it or not — black candidates draw support from black voters, all issues aside. White candidates typically draw support from white voters in the same way. It’s a fact of life that we may not see change in our lifetimes.

Sure, some people vote for candidates based strictly on the issues, not skin color, but I’m talking about the majority here.

So, with West out of the race, the obvious question became “Will the black community get out and vote?”

By 5 p.m. in the primary election between West and Jake Middleton, approximately 400 people had voted at Frazier Primary School, according to the estimations of poll workers Tuesday. The number of voters in the predominantly black ward was more than 200 less than in the previous race.

Many black voters did not get out and vote in Tuesday’s election.

In a few months our country might elect its first-ever black president.

And Barack Obama could carry the state of Mississippi, a rare feat for a Democrat.

Political analysts speculate that Mississippi’s high number of black residents could swing the state toward Obama.

Our state has one of the country’s highest percentages of black residents. According to 2006 U.S. Census data the black population is 37.1 percent of the state.

In politics, those numbers matter. Tuesday’s election results prove that.

But it’s sad really. Numbers on the exact racial breakdown of the Natchez results aren’t yet available, but logic says that if the numbers were low in Ward 2, then the overall total of black voters was low as well.

And that means the election of Jake Middleton as mayor doesn’t really represent the choice of the population of the City of Natchez. It represents the choice of the people who voted, and the apathy of the others.

I talked with a few of the voters exiting the Ward 2 precinct Tuesday, all of whom were black. Their summation of those who didn’t turn out to vote was simple — “stupid.”

“You’ve got to vote. Every vote counts,” one voter said, saying he was baffled others weren’t coming out to vote.

He’s right. Even if your man loses, the race goes on.

White voters were among the guilty Tuesday. Anyone of voting age who fails to participate should be scolded. Apathy is disrespect to the men and women who have created our government, fought for it and kept it stable.

Black or white, Tuesday’s election results will affect your life.

I only wish more of you seemed to care.

Julie Finley is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or julie.finley@natchezdemocrat.com.