Not a good sign

Published 9:13 pm Thursday, October 21, 2010

In less than two weeks, Suffolk voters will head to the polls to cast their votes in elections. Four of Suffolk’s boroughs — Suffolk, Holy Neck, Chuckatuck and Cypress — have local contests that will appear on the ballot. Voters will choose representatives from those boroughs for the City Council and for the School Board. Voters in all of Suffolk’s boroughs will choose a representative to the U.S. House of Representatives. And all Virginia voters, including those in Suffolk, will decide the fate of three proposed constitutional amendments.

This may not be a presidential election, but it’s still an important one, and there’s a lot on the ballot, especially for those with contested local races. Unlike elections at the national level — or those for congressional seats — local candidates rarely appear on television. They advertise little, usually relying on their name recognition to garner votes and often making little apparent effort to let the electorate know what they stand for.

Such considerations are what makes events like the candidate forums held this week by the NAACP and the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce so important. It is only in such public venues that voters can hear all of the candidates respond to questions, state their positions and describe their hopes for Suffolk. Only at such forums can voters really make direct comparisons between candidates and try to coerce those candidates into something other than pat answers.

Sadly, only 40 people attended the NAACP forum. Another 60 or so were at last night’s Chamber of Commerce forum. That’s a total of about 100 or so, assuming that nobody attended both. Out of 55,216 registered voters in the city. Which kind of forces the question: How will the 55,116 or so who didn’t attend any forum choose their local representatives?

Clearly, a significant portion will choose not to vote at all, meaning they’ll pick their representatives by letting others make the choice for them. Some others, perhaps, will refer to the election coverage that has appeared in this or other newspapers. Maybe some will check their candidates out online. How many, though, will make that choice based on the number of — or color of, or size of, etc. — the candidate’s signs they’ve seen?

It’s a sad state of affairs when an election at any level comes down to such a trivial issue. Unfortunately, we can’t help but wonder whether that’s exactly the level of the local electoral process.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably not part of the problem — newspaper readers are generally more informed and likely to vote than non-readers. But please be sure you’re prepared to make an informed decision on Nov. 2. Suffolk is relying on you to counter a lot of votes earned by the prettiest sign seen on the way to the polling booth.