Time for Rockdale city elections to get back to 1970s levels

Good early voting turnout has gotten local political observers mildly excited that this Saturday’s city election turnout might reverse some pretty bland numbers in recent years.

The last mayoral election—like this one a three-candidate race—in 2010 drew only 554 voters.

Before that, the most recent contested mayoral election in 1995 pulled a much more respectable 923 voters.

That’s not too bad but, frankly, it’s kind of embarrassing that Rockdale city elections for a long time haven’t come close to the levels of interest this city saw in the 1970’s.

In six consecutive elections during that decade— non-mayoral and mayoral, which tend to have the highest turnout—the average vote was over 1,000.

That period includes the two highest turnouts in Rockdale city election history, 1,454 in 1978 and 1,443 in 1976.

Compare those totals to the 554 of three years ago.

In 1976, city council candidate Margie Abbott—in what was then an at-large election—polled 1,009 votes, almost double the entire turnout of 2010.

That doesn’t even take into consideration the 405 votes her opponent drew. Had he been running in 2010, those 405 votes would have gotten him first place in the mayoral election. In 1976, he lost his race by almost 600 votes.

Two interesting factors. Rockdale was probably about the same size through the 1970s that it is today. The 1970 census was 4,655 and the 1980 census 5,611. The 2010 census has our town at 5,595. Of course populations go up and down in between censuses.

And, it’s much easier to vote now. In the 1970s early voting hadn’t yet made its appearance.

There really isn’t any good reason why city election turnout has slipped so much in the past four decades. There’s certainly no shortage of issues and, as a full city council chambers showed last month, there’s some passion out there.

Does any of that translate into votes?

We’ll know on Saturday night.—M.B.

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2013-05-09 digital edition

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