The North Fulton County Voter Education, Registration and Participation Initiative may have added roughly 19,000 new voters in North Fulton, including 3,509 in Johns Creek, in time for the 2012 presidential election.
Fulton Voter Education Specialist Julia Reed’s final report on the initiative stated that in Nov. 2011, there were 73,680 potential voters in North Fulton uninvolved in the electoral process. Of those, 33,282 were registered voters who had not voted in three to seven years and 40,397 were eligible but unregistered. The combined 73,680 represented 59.4 percent of the county’s inactive and unregistered eligible voters.
“36.4 percent of all Fulton County voters reside in North Fulton,” Reed said. “If only half of the voters in North Fulton voted on an issue and they happened to agree, they have the potential to carry the vote.”
North Fulton is often not on the wining side, but there’s no reason it shouldn’t be. Residents are losing opportunities because they don’t vote.
The biggest stumbling block in getting people registered to vote is the idea that if people are registered to vote, that means they have to participate in jury duty. Reed said this is a misconception — whether one is called for jury duty depends on whether one has a driver’s license.
The initiative worked with local government and civic leaders to register North Fulton residents.
“We trained over 100 city employees as well as another 175 to 200 residents as Fulton County deputy registrars,” she said.
Between November 2011 and November 2012, the number of active registered voters in North Fulton rose by 18,866, a 9.21 percent increase. The number of inactive registered voters declined, as did the number of unregistered eligible voters. Although the report states the increase cannot be directly attributed to the initiative, some voters were reached via the initiative and many said if it weren’t for the initiative, they would not have registered or it would have been more difficult.
When asked about Johns Creek specifically, Reed said she was very pleased with the voter registration in the city. In 2012, the number of active registered voters rose 3,509, an increase of 8.17 percent. One particularly useful project, for which she credited city Chief of Staff Patty Hansen, was holding voter-registration drives in the North Fulton schools. Johns Creek was prominently represented, with drives taking place at Barnwell, Findley Oaks and Medlock Bridge elementary schools, River Trail and Autrey Mill middle schools and Chattahoochee High School.
Hansen praised the local school officials and PTAs for how supportive they were.
“They went to various open houses at the schools and made voter registration available,” she said.
The city from the start has had a strong relationship with the schools. When the voter-registration initiative began, it was only natural to include the school system. Many involved with the PTA signed up to become deputy registrars to register other people to vote at the open houses held at the schools a week before the school started.
“I think it turned out very well, not only for registration, but awareness,” Hansen said. “It raised awareness of the importance of promoting voter registration in this area.”
Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker said the chief complaint he hears from voters is how they’re not happy with something going on in government. However, not everyone makes the connection that they can do something at the most fundamental level — vote in or out those individuals who best represent the voters’ viewpoints. If they’re registered to vote and regularly vote, they can bring about better governance. But if all they do is grumble, it is unlikely they’ll get the result they’re looking for.
Bodker cited statistics from the final report on how, in Johns Creek, there are 57,009 potential voters, but even after the drive, only 42,961 are active registered voters. And voter turnout is still low — in an off-year municipal election, 3,000 people make decisions on behalf of 77,000.
The initiative is a great first step, but there should be a second phase — get out the vote. As important as it is to get people registered to vote, it’s more important they actually vote.