Veterans Day was this week and many residents took part in programs across Fort Mill Township to honor local residents who served in the U.S. Armed Forces, including the many who are still on active duty and/or just back from deployment.
Ask those who have served and continue to serve why they joined our all-volunteer military and most will say to protect the United States and our freedoms, including our democratic system of government by the people and for the people.
In the Town of Fort Mill, where folks crowded into and around the downtown Veteran’s Park for this year’s Veterans Day program, the irony was inescapable: There where close to, if not more, people attending the program than bothered to go to the polls and vote in last week’s election.
Only 321 voters cast ballots in the Ward 3 town council race that was open to all of the town’s registered voters. That’s only 3.46 percent of 9,277 registered voters, and that’s a shame.
The winner of the council race, incumbent Larry Huntley, said there wasn’t a compelling enough issue to draw voters last week. That may be a matter of opinion about compelling issues, but Huntley is obviously correct that voters were not motivated.
More irony: When S.C.’s new voter ID law was still being debated, Fort Mill residents were outspokenly in favor of making it a requirement for voters to show a driver’s license or approved photo ID when signing in at their polling place before being given access to the ballot. If so many people in town cared so passionately about the electoral process, why didn’t they show it when it mattered most? Even if there was little or no desire to deny the incumbent another term, none of his supporters should have taken it for granted that he could win without their vote. Clearly he did, but history is not without cases of an underdog candidate coming out out on top because of voter apathy.
Contrast Fort Mill’s race with the one in Tega Cay, where approximately 22 percent of the voters turned out. Most candidates running in the city council and mayors race in Tega Cay garnered more individual votes than all the ballots cast in Fort Mill. Twenty two percent isn’t exactly stellar, but it’s impressive compared to the less than 3.5 percent Fort Mill managed despite having about 2,500 more voters.
Our admiration is extended to the poll workers in both municipalities. No matter how busy – or quiet – their precincts may be, the workers put in a gruelingly long day to make sure the polls opened on time at 7 a.m. and that the public received the tally sometime after they closed at 7 p.m.
They had to install, test and otherwise manage the machines – and make sure they are returned to the county for storage afterward. The workers now have to make sure each voter who signs in has the proper photo ID, as well as deal with provisional ballots for those who don’t. These front-line workers are the ombudsmen for one of the most important functions of government – and democracy. And although it was a long day for all of them, it must have felt excruciatingly slow for the poll workers in Fort Mill who had so few voters to assist.
Before the next elections and Veterans Day observances come around in 2014, we hope those registered voters in both Fort Mill and Tega Cay who didn’t bother to cast ballots will think long and hard about the sacrifices of countless Americans – including civil rights crusaders who fought to ensure voting rights for women and minorities – needed to preserve our democracy.
There may be many threats to our way of life now and in future, but one of the biggest enemies is apathy. Let’s hope residents who didn’t vote in last week’s elections learn to show their patriotism by participating in the democracy they say they cherish.