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Friday, February 28, 2020
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Nov. 5 – COMMENTARY: Impact of HUGE Growth in Registered Voters Unknown in Today’s Election; Early Voting Numbers Very Low

By Lou Phelps, SBJ, 10:00 a.m.

Nov. 5 – Despite a number of highly contested Mayoral and City Council elections contests in six of Chatham County’s nine municipalities, this year’s early voting numbers were low across Chatham County as of the close of early voting last Friday.

According to Chatham County Chief of Registrars, Sabrina German, the total Registered Voters eligible to vote today in the City of Savannah elections is  97,017, a dramatic increase from the city’s municipal elections four years ago when the total number of registered voters was only between 59,000 and 60,000. The change is due to the State of Georgia’s automatic voter registration legislation that went into effect on January 1, 2017.  Every person with a valid driver’s license is now automatically registered to vote across Georgia, unless they check a box to opt out, and that change has had a dramatic impact within the City of Savannah as well as across Georgia.                

But, of that 97,017, only 5,127 voted early within the City of Savannah, as of last Friday, or just 5.3%. That's extremely low, and may be a sign of voter weariness on both the local, state and national level.  We're all kind of worn out, aren't we?  

As election returns come in tonight, remember that often the absentee ballots received as of 5 p.m. Tuesday will be counted and posted first.  I’ll be there at the Board of Elections tonight, a more than 20-year tradition as a Savannah journalist, and posting to the Savannah Business Journal’s Facebook page tonight as the returns come in.

As an election results nerd, I thought I'd look back at the 2015 municipal races to remind us all of what happened, and the percentages that a lot of our incumbents received. 

Savannah’s Mayoral Race

In the last Savannah Municipal election in Nov 2015, remember that Eddie DeLoach came in second behind incumbent Mayor Edna Jackson, receiving 9,324 votes or 41.66% of the 22,404 votes cast for Mayor, versus Jackson’s 9,791 votes or 43.75%, short of the 50% plus one votes she needed to avoid a runoff.  DeLoach, of course, won in the December run-off.  The third place candidate, Murray Silver – viewed by many as a splitter for the white vote that DeLoach needed – had garnered over 10% of the total votes cast.  Those voters appeared to moved to DeLoach in the December run-off. He ended up with 12,472 votes, or 53.02% of the 23,614 votes cast in the Dec. 1 runoff when turnout was an even higher percentage. 

According to the official Chatham County Board of Elections results in 2015, there were 59,579 registered voters in the City of Savannah for the November election, which had increased to 60,570 for the Dec. 1 runoff.  Contrast those numbers to this week’s 97,017 people now registered to vote within the city. 

The turnout in Municipal elections is normally much lower than a General Election.  Last November 2018, there were 188,315 Registered Voters in all of Chatham County, and 103,841 voted, a 55.14% turnout.  Of course, last year’s election had the highly contested Gubernatorial race between Jack Kemp and Stacy Abrams at the top of the ticket, and a long list of statewide and Congressional races.

Looking Back at the 2015 Elections of Council Incumbents Seeking Re-Election

This year, four members of the current Savannah City Council seeking re-election have opponents. (Alderwoman Estella Shabazz has no opponent in District 5.  And, District 4 candidate Nick Palumbo has no opponent in his first race for office, as Julian Miller did not seek a second term.) 

Alderman-at-Large Post 1, Carol Bell, is seeking a third term, being challenged by Keisha Gibson-Carter. In 2015, she received 58.64% of the vote against Linda Wilder-Bryan who entered the race late, had never run for office, but received over 40% of the votes cast across the city.  This year, Wilder-Bryan is running in her home district, District 3.  Bell’s vote this year is expected to mirror the vote DeLoach receives.

District 2 Alderman Bill Durrence is seeking his second term, again facing challenger Detric Leggett.  Back in 2015, Durrence, Leggett and Andrea Patterson challenged City alderman Mary Osborne who ended up with only 29.14% of the 3,634 votes cast.  On that day, there were 9,743 registered voters in District 2.  Durrence came in first among the four, with 44.30% of the vote, and won over Osborne in the Dec. runoff.

District 3 Alderman John Hall is seeking a third term, in a head-to-head contest with challenger Linda Wilder Bryan.  In 2015, there were 11,144 registered voters in District 3.  Hall received 2071 or 54.40% of the total 3,807 votes cast in that race, against Kim Dulak who received 1,730 votes, or 45.44%.   This year, he’s in another head-to-head race against Linda Wilder-Bryan.  But this year, both candidates are African American; in both 2011 and 2015, Hall faced a white opponent. The demographics of District 3 are roughly 50% white and 50% voters of color, leading to a new landscape for Hall.

And, District 6 Alderman Tony Thomas is seeking his fifth term representing Savannah’s Southside.  In 2015, he was challenged by three opponents, David Self, Zena McClain and Stephen McElveen, but received 58.68% of the 3804 votes cast.  That day, there were 9,765 registered voters in District 6.  This year, Thomas is in a race with Kurtis Purtee who has lived in the district for several years, and Antonio Hunter.

Alderman-at-Large Post 2, is an open seat, as Brian Foster did not seek re-election.  Atty. Tony Center, a former Chatham County Commissioner, and activist Alicia Blakely are both seeking the seat. 

The District 1 seat is also open, with long-time Alderman Van Johnson running for Mayor.  Bernetta Lanier from Hudson Hill is running against Peter Pannizzo, a resident of The Highlands area on the City’s far west edges.  In the final forum of this election cycle, held last night for Highlands residents, Pannizzo did not attend, instead hosting his own “Meet the Candidate” event at which eight people attended.

Pooler Municipal Elections

Pooler has a number of highly-contested races, for Mayor and six seats on the City Council today, as well.  A group of candidates is seeking to bring ‘new faces’ into local government after 10 years of the Mike Lamb administration.  Mayor Lamb announced in August that he would not be seeking another term. Look for the large number of candidates for all posts to impact the Pooler turnout.

The Board of Elections has added machines in the Pooler area, based on the long lines last year that had people standing in lines for hours. 

Under Georgia law, there is supposed to be one voting machine for every 200 registered voters assigned to a polling location. Across the County, Chatham is far short of that number, but long lines are not expected for the municipal races.

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