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Low Voting Had Positive And Negative Impacts In Charleston, North Charleston
11/11/2015 4:10:48 PM

Voters casting their ballots in the November 3 Charleston elections
By Barney Blakeney

Despite low voter turnout Nov. 3, North Charleston voters produced some positive results in the council elections although the three Blacks running for mayor lost to incumbent Mayor Keith Summey. In Charleston the low turnout led to Nov. 17 runoff elections in key races including the mayoral election and council Dist. 3.

In North Charleston only about 10,000 of the city’s nearly 50,000 registered voters cast ballots Nov. 3. In Charleston some 25,000 voters cast ballots. The low voter turnout in North Charleston where the city’s Black population is about 50 percent, held greater significance for the Black community. The Black population in Charleston is only about 28 percent.

North Charleston mayoral candidate John Singletary mounted perhaps the most contentious race in his challenge to Summey. Singletary mounted a highly volatile campaign that challenged 20-year incumbent Mayor Keith Summey on issues that affect Black residents especially, and characterized Summey’s administration as corrupt and disparaging. His candidacy was expected to draw Blacks to the polls in greater numbers than any other North Charleston municipal election.

In the end, Singletary received only about 3,300 votes compared to Summey’s 6,400 votes. The two other candidates together received less than 800 votes. Still, Singletary was optimistic.

As a result of the education process engaged by him and other candidates, some 3,000 more voters cast ballots Nov. 3 than in the 2011 election, Singletary noted. Continuing the voter education process will mean even more voters participating in four years, he said.

Despite the low voter turnout the education process produced some positive results in several North Charleston council races. In majority Black Dist. 1 Michael A. Brown, the district’s first Black councilman was elected. He defeated incumbent Ed Astle who won the district in 2011 with only about 280 votes. Astle received 273 votes Nov. 3 and was unseated by Brown who received 600 votes.

In Dist. 3 Virginia Jamison became the first Black councilperson to hold the seat in that majority Black district winning by a slight margin over three other contenders. Jamison and Brown will join re-elected incumbents Dorothy Williams (Dist. 6), Sam Hart (Dist. 7) and Michael Brown (Dist. 10) to give the council five Black representatives on the 10-member body for the first time in the city’s history.

In a recent statement Jamison said substance may be added to what can happen in North Charleston if people get over their complacency and the self doubt they carry around.

In the Dist. 9 council election Charity Missionary Baptist Church Pastor Rev. Nelson Rivers missed a long shot effort at winning the seat where only about 24 percent of residents are Black. He said had more Blacks in the district voted they could have overwhelmed the 18 percent of white voters who went to the polls Nov. 3.

“We thought we could get close to what we needed. More of us voted in this election, but the problem was not enough of us voted,” Rivers said Monday. Like Singletary, Rivers is optimistic about prospects for the city’s municipal elections in four years.

“We have two election cycles - 2016 and 2018 - to change the narrative about why the Black vote doesn’t turn out and to address those reasons. We don’t have a voter registration problem, it’s a voter turnout problem,” he said.

Rivers noted that white voters don’t go to the polls either, but the white community doesn’t have the same concerns as Black communities, he said.

“When white people complain, they complain to get more of what they already get. No matter who is elected, their communities are taken care of. Black communities don’t have that guarantee. Our communities face disparities in policing, economics, job opportunities and fair wages. The way to change all of that is by voting,” he said.

In Charleston Council Dist. 3 representative James Lewis will face Jimmy Bailey Jr. in the Nov. 17 runoff. It’s hard to get people out to vote the first time and even harder for runoff elections, he said. Lewis, the incumbent, failed to get re-elected by some eight votes. His challenge is to get voters back to the polls.

Most observers feel the low voter turnout did not affect Charleston’s mayoral election where three Blacks challenged three whites for the seat. Charleston’s three Black mayoral candidates together only received about 13 percent of the vote.

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