Opinion: Buck the trends and be heard

(photo by Ryan Phillips, SDN)

Tuesday marks Primary Election Day in Mississippi, but for many, it will just be another day to ignore the civic duty of casting a ballot.

Turnout in Oktibbeha County is sure to be decent with two races for Capitol Hill on the ballot, but it always seems to end up being lower than anticipated. Trends show this isn’t just a Starkville, or Golden Triangle issue, but a nationwide problem as it relates to state and local elections.

During the 2016 General Election - which featured a presidential race on the ballot - 18,051 votes were cast in Oktibbeha County, out of 27,856 registered voters, according to county voting records. Without a presidential race on the ballot Tuesday, turnout is sure to be substantially lower than 18,000.

For the state of Mississippi, vote totals fell by roughly 75,000 votes in 2016 from the 2012 General Election, which shows a trend of a growing disinterest in participating in the political process.

In many cases, it’s understandable that someone working two jobs and raising a family does not have time to worry about making it to the polls and the waning interest in voting could be endemic of the American condition - one that puts voting as a low priority beneath making ends meet.

And in a deeply conservative state like Mississippi, many on the left may have a feeling of despair when it comes to elections for Capitol Hill. But look no further than the election of President Donald Trump, or Democrat Sen. Doug Jones’ victory over Republican Roy Moore in Alabama to show how a mobilized voter base can turn the tide in the most unexpected of ways.

I don’t have an answer for how to get people motivated to vote, but it's obvious there are more variables than ever to keep people from making it to the polls. However, the precedent is there for anything to happen.

But we have to find a remedy if we want our Democratic system to continue.

Keep in mind, too, that the nation - and our corner of Mississippi - recently celebrated Memorial Day, so what better inspiration is there to get out and vote?

There are 92 names on a monument outside of the Oktibbeha County Courthouse representing those who died protecting that right and it is a disservice to those brave men and women if you are a registered voter who stays at home on election day.

I also hear many people complaining about the state of things across Mississippi - jobs, infrastructure, internet availability, education and so on. I personally know several armchair policy experts who stomp their feet and say we need to make changes on Capitol Hill, but who also refuse to cast a ballot. Well, the only way to affect such a shift is to participate in the process.

So, what if you do plan to vote?

When you go to the polls, be sure you have a photo ID on hand. All Mississippians voting at the polls are required to show a photo ID card and individuals voting in person by absentee ballot in person in the Circuit Clerk's office are also required to show a photo ID.

It also might not hurt to call Oktibbeha County Election Deputy Clerk Sheryl Elmore to confirm your registration and voting precinct, especially if you recently moved.  She can be reached at (662) 323-1356 or by email at selmore@oktcircuitcourt.org.

Sheryl got me registered to vote a few months ago and she is a great resource for local voters, so I encourage people to take advantage of that.

Also, some of our elderly may have a difficult time making it to the polls, so be a good neighbor and give a registered voter a ride to the polls. In our own hustle and bustle, it can be easy to overlook our elderly, but their voice is just as important as anyone else to our Democratic process.

And if you do make it out of the house to vote, be sure to thank a poll worker. We should be thankful for the people who sacrifice their time to be essential components of our electoral system.

I’m a firm believer that we as Americans have a duty to push the Democratic process forward and that can be as simple as casting a ballot or as daunting as being a poll worker.

Above all else, we have to be involved.

Ryan Phillips is the executive editor of the Starkville Daily News and Daily Times Leader. The views expressed in this column are his and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of either newspaper or their staffs.