OPINION: You win, Oktibbeha County


It finally happened this week.

Out of stubbornness and conviction, it was something I fought from my first day in Starkville.

On Friday, I finally broke down.

The feeling is liberating and my outlook is optimistic. I became a registered voter in Oktibbeha County. There … I said it.

Call it putting down roots. Call it biting the bullet. But I call it normalcy. Oktibbeha County is my home and I want it to stay that way.

That’s not to say I’ve never voted. I have cast ballots in every presidential and statewide election since I turned 18. I value the Democratic process more than most, but when I moved here, Starkville was in the midst of municipal election season and I admittedly have never been a fan of people that play politics, from City Hall to the White House.

As a community newspaper editor, you are tugged at constantly during election seasons from all sides, with candidates insisting their vision is the right one. If you give one candidate a voice, you will be lambasted as biased from the other side. It’s frustrating, but not a feeling anyone should expect the average person on the street to understand.

Supporting individual candidates at the local level has never been something I’ve been comfortable with while working in a community journalism capacity. I’m a firm believer in objectivity, detachment and fairness. While some readers may think differently about me, those are my core values and what I intend to reflect in this daily newspaper.

November will be a special time. We have a special election coming up that will determine a wide swath of positions and one big issue that I will not get into at this time. I feel it is my duty now that I have decided this is my home to cast my vote on these issues and elected positions - not as a newspaper editor, but as a member of the community.

If I can do it, you don’t have an excuse not to. Starkville saw low voter turnout during the municipal elections and several races were decided by vote totals you could count on one hand. The margin of victory has nothing to do with the efficacy of the Democratic process, but these narrow victories spurred bickering and dissent that could have been avoided had only a few more votes been cast.

I’ve had my fair share of arguments with readers and candidates during and following the elections and it’s not an uplifting feeling. And still, even now, there is doubt among many surrounding the mayor’s race as a formal challenge to the results moves forward after being given the green light by a judge.

Had 100 more votes been cast - a modest figure in most college towns - the dark cloud of uncertainty might not have formed over City Hall. We need to move forward into the new terms of our elected officials, but because of such a tight margin, it could be weeks and months before a final decision is made.

I’m not writing this to take one side or the other in that argument, but it goes to show how important every single ballot can be in a small town.

I admit fault for not participating with my vote. It’s a feeling that is both alien to me and something I don’t want to feel guilty about ever again.

So, I encourage you. Go downtown and register. It’s an easy process - especially for those who hate paperwork - and one that requires little prying into your personal life. Do yourself a favor Oktibbeha County: take to the polls and have your voice heard.

Ryan Phillips is editor of the Starkville Daily News. The views reflected in this and other columns are his alone and not the views of the Starkville Daily News staff.