In October 1995, Orangeburg City Council was asked by election officials and the S.C. Municipal Association to go along with a uniform municipal election date -- November in odd years from major elections.
The idea was to improve election oversight, simplify the process and improve voter turnout.
Pronouncing independence and saying the city is no "clone," the council did not go along with the uniform date. Orangeburg continues to hold elections in September.
The always-candid former City Councilman Everette Salley, who died in 2016, said that night: "In Orangeburg, we're special. The people who come to vote now come because they're interested in the City of Orangeburg.''
It's not an uncommon contention. Previously, local elected and education officials argued that holding trustee elections in the spring meant those voting would do so because of interest, not because they showed up at the polls for another election and cast a ballot in races about which they knew little or nothing.
The problem: No one seems to be come out for such elections unless there is the rare instance of a hotly contested race.
The Sept. 10 election involving council races in three Orangeburg City Council districts proves it – a 6.58% overall turnout.
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• Longtime Orangeburg City Councilman Charlie Jernigan lost his seat to former Orangeburg Consolidated School District 5 board member Kalu Kalu. Kalu received 53 votes to Jernigan’s 48 in District 2.
• In District 4, Councilman Bernard Haire received 74 votes. Three challengers got a combined total of 26 votes.
• In District 6, Councilwoman Sandra Knotts won with 25 votes to 23 for challenger Jack Grayton.
Jernigan said of his loss, “That’s what the people wanted.”
Well, that is correct in that those caring enough and knowing about the election decided to cast ballots and decided the outcome. But with a total of 3,800 registered voters eligible across the three districts on Sept. 10, it’s clear the will of the vast majority of people not voting is not known.
While that does not diminish the electoral victories for Kalu, Haire and Knotts, the turnout for the city election has to be as disappointing for them as it is for us.
As we see it, many people who otherwise would be interested and would turn out in the midst of general elections for a number of local positions stay home during September’s city election. They may do so out of lack of interest, lack of knowledge of the election or simply because they don't see the races as important enough to make a special effort.
This year, voters in other local towns will be at the polls on Nov. 5. It's time for a change, one that moves Orangeburg's municipal election to the uniform date in November.