Voter turnout weak in Clayton County

By Justin Boron

Turnout was dismal across Clayton County in the Tuesday city elections favoring most of the incumbents seeking re-election.

Only 14 percent of the eligible voters for the city elections cast ballots. The Jonesboro City Council race, driven by the controversy surrounding the mayor and city manager, pulled the highest percentage of all the elections at 26 percent. Riverdale had the lowest draw with 8.6 percent of its registered voters casting ballots.

For the most part, those who did participate kept the status quo.

Six of the 10 incumbents facing contention in their re-election bid prevailed or led the vote total. Yvonne Kelly, whose deceased husband was set to run as an incumbent Lake City Councilman, also won.

But the balance could still shift with two races undecided in Forest Park. Incumbent Councilwoman Debbie Youmans is still knotted in a tie with challenger Frank Brandon, and Mayor Chuck Hall, who led the vote total with 36 percent of the vote, will face challenger Corine Deyton in a runoff Dec. 6.

With few major issues to galvanize the electorate, the low turnout and success of incumbents shouldn't be any surprise, a political science expert said.

Receiving less publicity and typically lacking emotional response of presidential election, Joseph Trachtenberg, a professor of political science at Clayton State University, said local elections generally attract no more than a third of the electorate.

“The low turnout clearly favors incumbents,” he said.

However, contention, even in a lower turnout, can give challengers an edge.

Clayton County opposition candidates were most successful in Jonesboro where divisive issues had been ruminating in the minds of voters for several months. Two of three incumbents were unseated. Councilman Rick Yonce succeeded in his re-election bid after aligning himself with the victorious challengers.

Trachtenberg said he expected the turnout to be higher in next year's gubernatorial election. But he said it still wouldn't draw the number of voters as 2004 which was a hotly contested presidential election.