COLUMBIA, SC — Although the total number of new registered voters is small, the vast majority reside in districts whose council representatives traditionally have been opposed to a strong mayor for Columbia.
And new voters usually are motivated to go to the polls.
Tuesday’s turnout will determine if voters align with their council members on the city’s form of government.
There were 303 more registered voters across the city on Nov. 27 than April 1 – on average, 38 new voters per month – according to numbers provided by the state election commission.
In the only district in which a councilman supports a strong mayor, Councilman Brian DeQuincey Newman in District 2 lost 51 voters in the eight-month span.
At the same time, 143 voters registered in District 3, which is represented by Councilman Moe Baddourah. District 4, represented by Councilwoman Leona Plaugh, had 142 voters register. District 1, represented by Councilman Sam Davis, has seen 69 new voters.
Those three council members oppose a strong mayor. However, Baddourah flip-flopped on his stance during his campaign for the mayor’s seat, which he lost to incumbent Steve Benjamin Nov. 5.
Baddourah has been on council for two years. Holding the District 3 seat before him for three years was Belinda Gergel, who announced Friday she supports a change to a strong mayor. Anne Sinclair held the seat from 1998-2008. She joined the fray Saturday, saying voters should say “no.”
Columbia has two at-large representatives. Those split on the issue, with Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine opposed to the referendum and Councilman Cameron Runyan supporting a strong mayor.
An increase in voter registration can align with how people feel about the election’s topics.
“The issues on the ballot drive turnout,” said Chris Whitmire, spokesman for the S.C. Election Commission.
The city elections, library referendum and strong-mayor referendum “have been big topics of discussion in Columbia and Richland County,” Whitmire said.
Still, the increase in voter registration across eight months is slight compared to registration increases prior to the 2012 general/presidential election, when on average about 339 voters registered per month from Oct. 1, 2011, to Oct. 5, 2012.
All of the voters counted in the totals are considered active, which means they have recently registered, voted, changed their address or not disqualified themselves as voters, Whitmire said. People who have move or died are considered inactive voters, he said.
Changes in voter registration can also reflect population shifts, Whitmire said. Statewide, there has been a decrease in rural areas, he said, whereas cities have seen growth.
Former Mayor Bob Coble said the increase in new voters is relatively small. He predicted low turnout for the strong-mayor referendum and said history has shown referendums are difficult to get people out to.
However, he said, both campaigns have been “active and vigorous.” Plus, the issue is the only thing on the ballot, and it has gotten a lot of attention.
Coble said when he was mayor he supported “strong mayor.” He also favored coming up with a compromise in state law establishing another form of government that gave the mayor more authority but also kept a city manager. However, Coble said he has not taken sides in city issues since he retired from politics.
Turnout for city elections is usually around 10 to 16 percent of active registered voters. The city had 74,122 active registered voters as of Nov. 27. Around 16,000 people voted in the city’s elections Nov. 5, which were paired with a countywide library tax referendum.
Registered voters, by council district
Four of City Council’s seven members are elected by district. Here are the number of active registered voters by district, as of Nov. 27, and the number who registered since April 1.
District 1: 17,956, 69 of whom are new
District 2: 21,078, 51 fewer than on April 1
District 3: 20,500, 143 of whom are new
District 4: 14,588, 142 of whom are new
SOURCE: S.C. Election Commission
Reach Cope at (803) 771-8657 or on Twitter @cassielcope.