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Under-votes alter election

Romans negated more than 5,000 votes with partially filled ballots

by Sonya Elkins/Rome News-Tribune Staff Writer
If challenger Sylvia Morgan had just received nine of the more than 4,400 unused votes in the Rome Board of Education election Tuesday, she would have earned a seat.

While 2,091 Romans made it out to vote Tuesday, not all of them fully completed their ballots. Voters had the option to vote for up to any three of five candidates for City Commission and up to seven of eight for the school board.

Because of under-voting, 4,441 possible votes were not cast in the board of education race and 955 were not used in the City Commission race.

Under-voting is common, said Floyd County Election Supervisor Evon Billups. Sometimes it occurs by error, but in at-large races it usually occurs by choice.

Morgan said that one lesson candidates can learn from under-voting is to campaign earlier and educate voters better about themselves.

?If you?re not familiar with a name, then you?re not going to vote,? she said. ?We need to have more voter awareness and voter registration activities.?

Voter education is likely a primary factor in under-voting, said Berry associate professor of government Michael Bailey. Some people will only vote on an issue or candidate they are familiar with.

A subtle reason for under-voting is strategic voting, he said. If a person feels very strongly about one candidate and is fairly indifferent to their other options, votes for their opponents in an at-large contest can actually edge out their first choice.

?The others are in effect votes against your candidate,? he said.

One remedy to under-voting could be to allow cluster voting, he said. Under cluster voting, for example, those casting ballots in the City Commission races could give all three votes to one candidate or divide them between two or three candidates.

?A system like that would really help out minority candidates, because the minority constituency could cluster all of their votes behind the candidate that they like,? Bailey said.

Regardless of the motivations, the final choice to cast all the votes allowed is up to the individual, Billups said.

Some voters, she said, even turned in ballots without even casting a single vote.

On Tuesday, 14.8 percent of active registered Rome voters voted in the city commission and board of education elections, Billups said. The last results for the city elections were held up until about 10:30 p.m. due to a mechanical problem with one of the voting machines, she said.

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