By Curt Yeomans
The 10 Clayton County Board of Education candidates facing off in the Aug. 5 run-off elections have spent the last two and a half months telling voters the school board needs to change its ways.
But now, they have a different message. They are telling people to just show up and vote.
Despite the ongoing accreditation crisis facing the school system, only 21 percent of Clayton County's registered voters showed up to vote on July 15.
"The big issue I see in the next few weeks is we've got to get a lot of people to come out and vote," said John Askew, who is facing Mary Baker in the District 6 runoff. "I've done some research on this and the number of people who show up to vote drops off considerably from the primary election to the run-off election."
In 2004 and 2006, there were drop-offs in the voter turnout from the primary to the runoffs. In 2004, only 28 percent of the number of people who voted in the primary election showed up at the polls three weeks later for the run-off election. Two years later, the drop-off was not as steep when 58 percent of the number of voters who participated in the primary came to the polls for the runoff.
In addition to Askew and Baker, other school board candidates on next month's runoff ballots are: (District 2) Lindsey McDaniel, III, and Wanda Smith; (District 3) Jessie Goree and Charles Davis; (District 4) Michael King and Milton Mack, and (District 5) Ophelia Burroughs and Jennifer Talley.
At least two of the candidates listed on the run-off ballots will not end their pursuits of school board seats on Aug. 5, though. Democratic candidates in District's 2 and 5 will face Republican challengers, Della Ashley and Diana Nicholson, respectively, in the November general election.
The top Democrat in the District 6 race could end up squaring off against independent challenger, Marcela Bodkin, in the fall. Bodkin has filed her initial paperwork to qualify for the election as an Independent, but she is still gathering enough signatures to get on the November ballot, according to officials from the Clayton County Board of Elections.
Several candidates, including Askew, Baker, Burroughs, Davis, Gorree, McDaniel and Mack, said they are going to continue doing the grassroots style of campaigning which got them into the runoff in the first place.
Some of these candidates, like Burroughs and Mack, did not want opponents to know their campaign strategies, but many other candidates said they are going door-to-door, making phone calls, meeting people, talking about their platforms, and asking for support.
Several candidates also said they are asking the voters to just show up at the polls. "One of the things I'm trying to do is get out and meet people, shake their hands, and encourage them to vote and become educated on who is running," McDaniel said.
"The first time, you go with the assumption they are going to vote," Burroughs said. When Burroughs was asked if it should be a candidate's job to be an advocate for voting in general while also seeking votes, she said, "If it comes down to that -- and I think it has -- then, it's our duty to encourage people to come out and vote."
Mack said he would like to see groups hold more forums, like the ones which were hosted by groups such as the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce and the Clayton County Council of PTAs before the primary election.
"All of those groups that took leadership roles before the primary should host forums so we can debate the issues," Mack said. "That way, the voters will know who they should vote for."
The school board candidates are not alone on the runoff ballots, though. Races for the Board of Commissioners Chairmanship, District Attorney, Sheriff, State Senate District 44, and County Commission District 3 will also be decided on Aug. 5.
"I think we have an advantage that there are so many races which are higher profile than the school board on the run-off ballot that will probably attract a higher turnout," Baker said. "People who are more interested in the DA and sheriff races are going to be more inclined to vote in the runoff than they would, if it was just a couple of school board seats on the ballot," she added.
"These are crucial races because they deal with the leadership of our county, but our school board is very important as well," Davis said. "When you talk about the school board, you're talking about leadership for our children, and the type of education they will receive."
Gorree said this will be an opportunity for voters to stop limiting themselves to talking about change in government, and start making that change come to fruition. "Within the county, I keep hearing people say they want change ... Well, this is their chance to decide whether they truly want change, or stick with the same system we already have," Goree said.
Smith, Talley and King could not be reached for comment.