WHILE IT was good to see the candidate we believe is best suited to serve as Lexington County’s next sheriff win the Republican primary on Tuesday, the turnout for this important election was disheartening.
The Lexington County sheriff is the most powerful public figure in the county, yet the overwhelming majority of voters sat this election out. How can that be?
How is it that only about 26,000 of the county’s approximately 162,000 eligible voters — 16 percent — bothered to go to the polls to choose the person who will oversee the sheriff’s department and jail and head up homeland security efforts? How is it that such a paltry few were willing to engage in the process to choose the man expected to restore trust and confidence in the office following the disgrace cast upon it with the indictment and guilty plea of former Sheriff James Metts? How is it that more than 130,000 of the county’s eligible voters sat this race out when the county’s new top cop will determine how the department’s 500 deputies go about policing and keeping all county citizens safe? (And those registered voters make up only a portion of people who would be eligible to vote if they’d simply register.)
The result is that the few decided for the many that Jay Koon will be the next sheriff of Lexington County. He faces no opposition in the April 21 special election. As we noted in our endorsement, we believe that Mr. Koon has the leadership skills and experience needed to do a credible job as sheriff.
But it’s perplexing that more voters didn’t — and don’t — take advantage of the opportunity to participate in choosing those who govern them. We understand that this was a special election, and special elections rarely garner significant turnout. But that is no excuse. Unfortunately, this wasn’t unique to this election. When a special election was held in July to fill a vacancy in the Lexington County coroner’s office after the death of Harry Harman, only about 10,000 voters participated in the primary and runoff contests.
The only thing more discouraging than Tuesday’s turnout is the fact that election officials had forecast that only 10 percent would show up at the polls. Election officials weren’t pulling that number out of the air. They gauge turnout on voting patterns over time. The sad truth is that turnout in local elections is appalling in general.
Tuesday’s vote revealed that while tens of thousands are registered to vote in Lexington County, the overwhelming majority aren’t committed to participating in the democratic process. This pitiful display of civic duty suggests that not only are most people not engaged with the government closest to them, but they simply don’t care. Such apathy could lead less-virtuous elected officials to believe that they can get away with practically anything because the people aren’t paying attention.
Some of the same people who failed to go to the polls to choose a new sheriff will be champing at the bit to vote in the next presidential primary and general election, even though the president doesn’t have nearly the direct effect on their lives and even though South Carolina, while a player in the primary, doesn’t ultimately help to decide that general election. Go figure.
A key tenet of a democracy is that it operates via the will of the people, who express their will through voting. When people don’t vote, the assumption is that they have no preference and no will. Thus the sad saying that the people get the kind of government they deserve.