Winning vote totals just part of serving

Posted 11/26/20

In the interest of compete transparency and full disclosure — society’s newest buzzwords — I’m a longtime resident of Chatham County, arriving when my family moved from neighboring Wake when …

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Winning vote totals just part of serving

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In the interest of compete transparency and full disclosure — society’s newest buzzwords — I’m a longtime resident of Chatham County, arriving when my family moved from neighboring Wake when I was 5 years old. In a sense, my parents were returning home, both having grown up in Bynum in the 1920s and ’30s. So far, I’ve lived almost 90 per cent of my life within Chatham’s confines.

I’m a product of our county school system, as are my brothers, parents, wife, in-laws and children. Today, some of my grandchildren are enrolled in that same system, making them at least the fourth generation of students to do so.

When I turned 21 long ago, I registered to vote as a Democrat, in part because in those days there were few Republicans and fewer contested races. In short, if you wanted to vote, it was necessary to be a Democrat because the primary was essentially the election. Some years later as both major parties grew, I changed that registration to unaffiliated because I wanted to vote for the candidate, not so much for the party. Since then, I have crossed party lines often and want to continue to have that opportunity. At the moment, I am registered as a Republican as a nod to an election request to allow me to satisfy paperwork to serve as a party precinct judge. As soon as I can get to the board of elections office, I will change that back to unaffiliated.

All that I say to say something else. It has been a few weeks since Nov. 3 and the election and its results are still a topic of interest. That includes not only the race for the White House but other contests, such as the vote for Georgia’s two U.S. Senators and the almost dead heat for chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court where, as of this writing, only about 400 votes out of 5.3 million cast separate the two contenders. In short, those races point out how important it is to exercise our civic privilege.

At the same time, however, it can be interesting — win, lose or draw — to analyze and study results. And I found something personally interesting in the three contests for county commission. I’m not acquainted with the three residents who won their races. As far as I know, they are all pillars of their communities, churches and civic life and are benevolent and philanthropic citizens in their contacts with fellow citizens. I have no personal axe to grind.

But from years in the media observing and reporting on life around here and with a lifelong study and love of words, I do have some background and experience in vocabulary usage and messaging. And it was a couple of comments about two commissioner races that piqued my interest.

One was a statement by a winning incumbent candidate that a successful re-election campaign was vindication that “the general sentiment in Chatham County has been satisfaction and approval of the current board and the things that we’re doing.” A look at the county precinct map of election results showed voters in 11 of the 18 precincts did not share that sentiment. And a statement by another elected board member that said victory, in part, came about because he was a newcomer and his opponent had been here “for generations” and that “I’m younger and he’s older” seemed to suggest that was sufficient reason for a win. The same county precinct map showed that in that contest, 13 of the 18 precincts favored the unsuccessful candidate and that the winner did not carry his home precinct.

All of that brings back memories of years ago when, as a reporter, I covered the county commissioners and for years heard hours of discussion about voting by district-only for commission seats versus voting county-wide. Both points of view had their supporters, as did a compromise suggestion of district and at-large voting where each district-only would vote for its candidate but the entire county would vote for the at-large seats.

As I remember through the fog of a number of years, the district-only proposal was bypassed on the basis that all board members represent all of the county.

Maybe I’m more dense than I realize but the logic of that is comparable, to me, of the logic about Congress. Congress is supposed to exist for the good of the country as a whole — some would argue that’s not happening — but because of where I live, I don’t get to vote for the senators from Nebraska or the House members from Wisconsin or Mississippi. What, pray tell, is the difference?

In remembering the lessons of civics from long-ago high school days and political science in college, when everyone in authority is alike, it leaves many folks out — in this case, approximately 45% of the county population, a significant number in anyone’s book. And the opportunities for substantive differing discussion and compromise often don’t exist.

I know we don’t have elections based on geographical areas and land mass but somehow something seems to be missing. I hope we can keep looking for whatever it is.

Bob Wachs is a native of Chatham County and retired long-time managing editor of the Chatham News/Chatham Record, having written a weekly column for more than 30 years. During most of his time with the newspapers, he was also a bi-vocational pastor and today serves Bear Creek Baptist Church for the second time as pastor.


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