Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2023

Good morning! This week in Soundings, we look at voter turnout in last week’s municipal elections and a call for a C-SPAN tone for the Savannah City Council. Any comments or news tips? Contact craig.thecurrent@gmail.com.

Voting location sign along Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Voting location sign along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Savannah Credit: Justin Taylor/The Current

2023 elections: Voter turnout down

With all of Coastal Georgia’s voting data from last week’s municipal elections yet to be examined, it’s too early to draw sweeping conclusions about voter turnout across the region.

Still, the numbers from Georgia’s fifth most populous city — Savannah — indicate a drop-off in turnout from the last municipal elections in 2019. Elsewhere in Chatham County, however, the picture was mixed.

In Savannah, some 21,696 voters cast ballots in the marquee race for mayor between incumbent Van Johnson and challenger and at-large, Post 1 alderwoman Kesha Gibson-Carter. It was a decrease of 3,110, or 12.6%, from the number cast in the general election in 2019 — even though the number of registered voters in Savannah has increased.

In this year’s hotly contested races for the two prestigious at-large seats on the Savannah City Council, 20,830 voters cast ballots for the six candidates for Post 1, won by Carol Bell, while some 21,103 voters cast ballots in the Post 2 contest that saw incumbent Alicia Miller Blakely defeat Johnson ally Patrick Rossiter.

That represents a drop from 2019 of 2,113 votes (9.3%) in the Post 1 race and 1,769 votes (7.8%) in the Post 2 race — this, again, even though the number of registered voters in Savannah has climbed.

In wider Chatham County, the state’s fifth most populous county, voter participation varied.

It was slightly down in the races for Garden City mayor (1,007 in 2019 to 895 last week) and for the at-large seat on the Port Wentworth City Council (1,093 to 911).

Turnout increased, however, in the race for the Tybee City Council (3,929 in 2019 to 4,201 last week). Most notably, it jumped significantly in Pooler, in the races for city council seats (14,452 to 17,550) and for mayor (3,154 to 3,345).

The lowest vote total in any of the county’s 22 election races was 131 for the Garden City Council’s District 2 seat. The highest was the 21,696 votes cast in in the Savannah’s mayoral race.

Voter turnout isn’t the only measure of a healthy democracy. Another is the extent of competition for elected office.

In the case of Chatham County, four out of the 22 mayoral and city council races featured a candidate running unopposed.

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson talks politics with Skidaway Island Democrats at a senior living center on the island, Thursday, November 9, 2023 (Craig Nelson)

‘Going for 80’

At a meeting of the Skidaway Democratic Club two days after winning reelection, a plainly exhausted but gratified Johnson basked in his landslide victory.

“The fact of the matter was, 77% wasn’t bad,” the 55-year-old mayor quipped about his winning vote percentage. “I was going for 80. I felt like we under-performed.”

Also addressing the nearly 60 people gathered in a meeting room at a senior living center on the island were Aaron “Adot” Whitely, chair of the Chatham County Democratic Committee, and Chester Ellis, chair of the Chatham County Commission, who confirmed his intention to seek reelection next fall.

Two days earlier, on election night, Johnson made it clear what he thought had been his winning message. He ascribed his victory to the “juvenile, sophomore behavior” that in his view dominated voter perceptions of the body over which he presided over for four years: the Savannah City Council.

“People were just tired of the mess,” the mayor said, referring to the vitriol that was frequently exchanged between his six-member majority and a three-women minority bloc led by Gibson-Carter his opponent in the mayor’s race.

So, his “no-more-crazy” message having swept him to another four years in office, what’s to replace “reality show” that bewildered and embarrassed Savannahians have watched for the past four years?

“We want to be more like C-SPAN,” Johnson said. “We need to be dignified.”


  • Voting group founded by Abrams, once led by Warnock, faces financial scrutiny” (Politico, Nov. 12, 2023) “[The New Georgia Project], which played a key role in registering the new voters necessary to turn Georgia from a red state to a swing state with two Democratic senators, is conducting its own internal probe into its finances in response to the claims of irregularities, one of its two board chairs, Frank Wilson, said.”
  • Sweeping Raids, Giant Camps and Mass Deportations: Inside Trump’s 2025 Immigration Plans” (New York Times, Nov. 11, 2023) “Former President Donald J. Trump is planning an extreme expansion of his first-term crackdown on immigration if he returns to power in 2025 — including preparing to round up undocumented people already in the United States on a vast scale and detain them in sprawling camps while they wait to be expelled.”
  • Constitutional challenge to Georgia voting machines set for trial early next year” (Associated Press, Nov. 11, 2023) “U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg issued a 135-page ruling late Friday in a long-running lawsuit filed by activists who want the state to ditch its electronic voting machines in favor of hand-marked paper ballots. The state had asked the judge to rule in its favor based on the arguments and facts in the case without going to trial, but Totenberg found there are ‘material facts in dispute’ that must be decided at trial.”
  • “In honor of our great Veterans on Veteran’s Day, we pledge to you that we will root out the Communists, Marxists, Fascists, and Radical Left Thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our Country, lie, steal, and cheat on Elections, and will do anything possible, whether legally or illegally, to destroy America, and the American Dream. The threat from outside forces is far less sinister, dangerous, and grave, than the threat from within. Despite the hatred and anger of the Radical Left Lunatics who want to destroy our Country, we will MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” (Former President Donald J. Trump, Truth Social, Nov. 11, 2023)
  • Millionaires Share Practical Financial Tips in New Research from Ameriprise Financial” (Ameriprise Financial, Press Release, Nov. 7, 2023) “Six in ten (60%) investors with $1 million or more surveyed classify themselves as upper middle class, and an additional 31 percent say they are part of the middle class. Only eight percent characterize themselves as wealthy.”

Let us know what you think: Send a note to staff@thecurrentga.org

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Craig Nelson is a former international correspondent for The Associated Press, the Sydney (Australia) Morning-Herald, Cox Newspapers and The Wall Street Journal. He also served as foreign editor for The...