Maybe they should have a voting precinct at Walmart

By Tom Joyce

October 12, 2013

There are two places in Mount Airy where one is guaranteed to never encounter a crowd — if a person happens to be the introverted type.

One is a local greenway, or similar exercise facility. The other is any polling place in the city limits during a municipal election. Going to either of those locations sometimes represents one of those situations in which you believe the whole world has been wiped out by a nuclear holocaust except for you.

We saw yet another example of this citizen laziness and indifference during a primary election for a seat of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners which culminated Tuesday.

Despite pleas by candidates and Surry Board of Elections officials urging people to exercise their right to vote, when all was said and done just 357 people had cast ballots.

That represented only 5 percent of the municipality’s 6,734 registered voters. And it should be pointed out that the 6,734 figure doesn’t include others who are eligible to vote, but haven’t seen fit to register for one reason or another.

Judging by the latest primary, there were at least 6,377 people who let their community down by not voting, not counting those with a good reason such as being bedridden.

It’s not as if elections officials don’t do everything possible to ensure that the process is easy and convenient for the constituency. In addition to the traditional absentee ballot process, this included operating an early voting site in Dobson for the municipal election from Sept. 19 to last Saturday.

Another such location was available at the Mount Airy Municipal Building for four days last week. (In fact, this special period is referred to as “no-excuse” one-stop voting, which even allows people to register as well as vote.)

And on the primary day itself this past Tuesday, five different precincts were set up around town to accommodate citizens — who simply didn’t live up to their part of the bargain.

As if all that weren’t enough, efforts were undertaken to make casting a ballot easy for disabled persons by providing a curbside-voting service at the various polling sites. All someone had to do was drive up outside or have a relative or friend transport them, signal their presence, and then have a precinct worker bring the paperwork right to the vehicle.

For those who were faced with the monumental task of actually walking into the voting area, the process took every bit of two minutes to sign in and cast a ballot. Since only one race was involved, it required pushing a single button, so no one could justifiably complain that “I just didn’t have the time to vote.”

If someone claims they don’t have time to do something, what they are really saying is that they’re not willing to make the time.

You can’t tell me that someone who doesn’t seem to mind standing in line at a fast-food restaurant or driving across town for cigarettes, beer or lottery tickets lacks 10 minutes to devote to the electoral process.

And the expense of holding the primary wasn’t a cheap proposition for taxpayers. While figures for the most recent one have not been released, the cost of the last Mount Airy primary in 2011 — which also involved three candidates for a commissioner seat — was $11,236.

You can’t just lay the apathy at the doorstep of the primary system, because the general municipal elections held in November every two years don’t draw many voters, either.

The only time I have seen long lines at the polls has been during hotly contested presidential elections.

I guess people must view those as more-exotic races than campaigns on the local scene, and are compelled to participate because they can be part of some national phenomenon. Yet it has been pointed out time and time again that local elections are much more important.

After all, it’s the city and county commissioners who collectively will determine such things as property tax rates and water and sewer charges, provide incentives for industries to hire workers and take a slew of other actions that directly affect citizens’ lives.

They make sure law enforcement, fire departments and emergency medical crews are in place to protect people, along with allocating money to educate our children and for recreational and health resources to aid the wellness of the populace.

We all know that Congress and the president are pretty much worthless, regardless of which political party is in power at any given time.

Aside from declaring wars that put our military personnel in harm’s way, or shutting down the government — as is the case at present — the federal government typically has little influence on our daily lives, at least when compared to local leaders.

The low voter turnout at municipal elections is yet another reflection of people’s misguided priorities, one more sign that society increasingly is becoming filled with uncaring, ignorant, unsophisticated losers.

When I cast my ballot for the city primary last Friday, only one other person could be seen in the room doing the same thing. I joked to precinct workers that instead of having a “Vote here” sign out front, they should have one saying “Walmart located here.”

Or at least establish a polling place inside that store, next to Subway or the optometry clinic.

Tom Joyce is a staff reporter for The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at 719-1924 or