Don’t delude yourself into thinking that your vote doesn’t count

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 6, 2003

While stuck in traffic Wednesday afternoon at the Downtown Tunnel, I had the radio tuned to National Public Radio – along with gray hair and wrinkles, a sure sign of aging.

A story about &uot;the disappearing voter&uot; caught my attention. Many blacks, according to the reporter and an author, have given up on voting and feel uncomfortable in the voting booth, particularly since the 2000 presidential election. Many are of the mindset that their vote doesn’t count, that elections are stolen, etc.

That may well be nationally, I don’t know. It is not, however, the case in Suffolk judging by the results of Tuesday’s election for Clerk of Court.

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The votes of blacks not only counted here Tuesday, they swung the election. Ironically, however, they swung it in favor of a white candidate.

Randy Carter, the apparent winner in Tuesday’s hotly contested race, targeted the black vote early on. He campaigned hard in Suffolk’s black community throughout the race, appearing before civic league meetings, church congregations and heavily signing the neighborhoods. It paid off.

Carter won the election with a mere 25 percent of the vote – not surprising considering there were seven candidates – out-polling second-place finisher Kirk Pretlow by a mere 128 votes. Carter can credit the black community with providing his margin of victory.

Pretlow’s strength was in Driver, Chucaktuck and Ebenezer, where he beat Carter by a 3.3-to-1 margin. However, it wasn’t enough to make up for Carter’s strength in the predominantly black precincts such as White Marsh, John F. Kennedy and Hollywood.

While third-place finisher Clinton Jenkins won each of those precincts by commanding margins, Carter was able to pull enough votes to fend off both Jenkins and Pretlow. In the three precincts mentioned, Carter pulled 298 votes, well under Jenkins’ 855, but well ahead of Pretlow’s 124 – that’s a 174-vote edge, just about the margin of victory.

In an interview with the News-Herald about 10 days before the election, Carter commented on his strategy when I noted that he appeared to be heavily courting the black vote, a reference to his signage and particularly his full page ad in Suffolk Happenings, a free distribution paper whose editorial content focuses on the black community, which went so far as to feature a photo of his campaign treasurer, Ross Boone, who is black.

&uot;I think I will do well in that community,&uot; Carter said. &uot;My reception there has been very good. They’ve appreciated that someone wanted to come out and meet them and have been appreciative that I’ve come to their church or civic league.

&uot;There’s not as much dividing us as we sometimes think there is and we’re not as far apart as some would like to think we are,&uot; he continued. &uot;It’s a community that is no different from anyone else in that they want to be treated fairly.&uot;

He also noted that the clerk of the courts is not representing any one particular category, which is where the Pretlow and Jenkins campaigns fell short, both appeared to be targeting white and black communities respectively, while Carter courted all.

&uot;You represent everybody from the James River to the Carolina line,&uot; he said.

&uot;It’s important that you go out and meet all the citizens and let them know what you want to do in office.&uot;

In the end, what the election Tuesday came down to was that Carter worked the hardest and his campaign had the broadest appeal. He deserved to win.

My point, I guess, is that your vote does count. I think our new Clerk of the Court will agree.

Andy Prutsok is editor and publisher of the News-Herald. You can reach him at 934-9611, or via e-mail at