Local voters will have to choose whether they’ll cast a ballot in state or local elections when checking their ballots in next Tuesday’s primary runoffs.
When entering the polls, voters will be asked if they will vote on the Republican or Democratic ticket, but not both, for the primary runoff elections. At the state level, Republican runoffs for secretary of state, state auditor and public service commissioner are featured on the ballot. However, for voters in Calhoun County interested in the county commission seat runoff, they will only see Democrats on their runoff ticket. For two of the races, public service commissioner and county commissioner, this will be the final stop en route to assuming office with no challenger in the November general election.
When faced with a choice between one party ballot or the other, voters will choose the issues relevant to their community as opposed to their state or political party, experts say.
In an area dominated by Democrats, the county commission runoff may have the biggest turnout according to some. In the Democratic primary for county commissioner, incumbent Fred Wilson will face off against challenger James Montgomery. Given the estimated turn out, this election could easily be swayed by a small number of votes.
“I think that the Republicans will go with the statewide offices,” said Carolyn Henderson, a member of the Calhoun County Board of Registrars.
Henderson said the turnout numbers are expected to be low in Calhoun County, which may sway votes from one side to the other.
“With District 1, I think for that area it will probably be about a third of the turnout will show up,” she said. “I think it’s because Calhoun County normally doesn’t get more than a third unless it is a presidential election.”
Alabama Secretary of State Jim Bennett said that as few as 75,000 votes could decide the state office races.
“Unfortunately we predict less of a turnout this year,” he said. “In a close election like this for Republicans, just a few votes — like 50 votes for secretary of state — can make a big difference.”
Lori Owens, professor of political science at Jacksonville State University, said many voters might stick to local elections as opposed to races for state positions that they may not be familiar with.
“Even though you have seen a lot of ads about the secretary of state and Public Service Commission race, I’m not sure if most of the voters really understand everything that those offices do or what their duties are, so they will be more interested in what the county commissioner is going to do,” she said.
Owens said from what she has seen in Cherokee County, where she lives, local issues tend to grab the attention of voters.
“I think that a lot of the turnout, not just in Calhoun County, will be dependent on local races,” she said. “Some of the areas have local referendums on the ballots, and like in Cherokee County where I live, they have a one cent sales-tax on the schools, so something like that would generate interest.”
As both the GOP and Democrats scramble for voter’s attention going into Tuesday’s runoff, the consensus view is that turnout will be low. Bill Armistead, Chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, said experts predict a 5 to 10 percent turnout.
"Unfortunately, the runoff is in the summertime and a lot of people are on vacation and I think we will have a low turnout because we don’t have a lot on the ballot,” he said.
The head of the Alabama Democratic Party also feels that turnout will be dictated by local interests as they relate to candidates on the ballot. Nancy Worley, chair of the Alabama Democratic Party, said that voter turnout was expected to be low.
“People tend to turn out when it is a local race they are interested in,” she said. “I know the Republicans have a statewide race but we just have a couple of judicial races and maybe one legislative race. We are not expecting a huge turnout because of a lack of candidates.”
Like GOP officials, Worley feels that voters in Calhoun County will be more likely to turn out for the county commissioner race due to local interest in the position.
She encouraged all to go to the polls on Tuesday and exercise their right to cast a ballot in support of the candidates and issues they believe in.
“I’m not saying people need to go switch parties just to vote in a primary runoff,” she said. “But if they have an interest in voting, they should go to the polls and vote.”