From left, China Brown and Nicole Tapplar fill out voter registration forms in front of the government center Tuesday morning. As a part of National Voter Registration Day, local, state and congressional officials urged people to register to vote and to vote in the November General Election.
ALBANY, Ga. — Elected officials from the local, state and federal level rallied in front of the Government Center downtown Tuesday to recognize National Voter Registration Day by urging those who haven’t registered to vote to do so while also chastising states who they say are making it more difficult to vote.
U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, headlined the event Tuesday, which also featured state senators and representatives, sitting and former city commissioners, members of the clergy and heads of various social and civic organizations, many of whom took to the podium to urge people who aren’t registered to vote to sign up, and those are registered to be informed voters.
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Bishop, who is running for re-election to congress against Republican challenger John House, said that the U.S. has had a long history of extending voting rights to the masses, but said he was concerned that in recent years 41 states had taken action “to move backward.”
“We have got to understand that our country has had a long history of extending voting rights to all Americans. So, then, I have to ask the question: Why now are those rights being challenged by some states? Why are we going backwards?” Bishop said. “...we must continue to fight for the right to choose our leaders against those who wish to make it harder for us to exercise that right.”
Georgia’s voter I.D. law, which has been upheld by the courts, requires a voter to present one of a list of accepted photo identifications — a Georgia driver’s license (even if expired); a free voter I.D. card issued by the state or county; an I.D. card issued by Georgia or the federal government; a passport; a valid employee I.D. card with photo from a federal, state or local agency or board; a valid military I.D. card, or a valid tribal photo I.D.
A voter who does not have a photo I.D. at the poll can cast a provisional ballot and has three days to present valid photo I.D. to the voter registrar in order for the ballot to count.
State Sen. Freddie Powell-Sims, D-Dawson, called voter registration and the act of voting itself a non-partisan issue, saying that regardless of party, voters should thoroughly scrutinize the candidates and vote for the ones that best represent them.
“As citizens of these United States it is our obligation, it is our duty, to first scrutinize the candidates that are running for office to see what they have to say — how will their being in office, or not being in office, affect you and your family and your community?” Sims said.
Ward IV City Commissioner Roger Marietta, who also teaches political science at Darton State College, said it’s important that people disavow any apathetic tendencies towards getting involved in the political process; remembering the sacrifices made by those to ensure equal opportunities for all Americans to vote.
“What I’ve started to do instead of arguing about why a vote matters, is that I’ve tried to relate to them some of the battles that have been fought to get that right to vote,” Marietta said. “I challenge them to go down to the Albany Civil Rights Institute and walk through those exhibits and see the price that people had to pay to register to vote.”
National Voter Registration Day comes as the presidential race, along with several local races, are expected to be tight.
Far from the voter registration efforts seen in 2008, this effort is more subdued, elections officials say.
Currently, of Dougherty County’s 92,913 people, 52,168 or 56.1 percent, are registered voters listed as “active” on the board of elections’ roles. Another 6,999 are listed as “inactive” voters meaning that those voters are registered but haven’t voted in several years.
And the problem isn’t just among those who live in Dougherty County but have failed to register, the apathy extends even to those who have registered but, for whatever reason, chosen not to vote.
In the July primary races in which the entire county was eligible to vote, one of the more publicized and contentious races — the race between Dougherty County School Board incumbent Anita Williams-Brown and challenger Lane Price — drew what has been considered a strong turnout for Dougherty County, 15,196 voters; a figure that is still less than 30 percent of the total number of registered voters.
David Williams, president of the Albany-Dougherty Chapter of the NAACP and a former Albany city commissioner, told those in attendance that registering increases participation in elections.
“It’s important that every person who is over the age of 18, that does not have a felony or is up under a felony, to register to vote,” Williams said. “We are encouraging everyone to get out to vote and to register to vote.”
Like Marietta and Bishop, Williams also spoke about efforts to curb voter participation, but focused on past efforts like literacy tests, poll taxes, and requirements to “count bubbles in a bar of soap,” as ways to keep people from the polls.
State Rep. Carol Fullerton, D-Albany, who managed to win another term in the General Assembly in July after staving off a challenge from Dougherty County Commissioner Muarlean Edwards, said that examples abound locally and at the national level about the importance that just a few votes can have on an election.
“Remember back in 2000 when then-Gov. George Bush and Vice President Al Gore ran for president?” she said. “If you count the vote totals, Gore lost by fewer than 1,000 votes. Every vote counts.”
Oct. 9 is the last day for people to register to vote in the Nov. 6 General Election. The Dougherty County Elections Office at 222 Pine Ave., has voter registration forms and information. Early voting starts Oct. 15.