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Yes, we’re electing a president in a few weeks, and that race is certain to dominate the headlines between now and Nov. 6.
But voters in York, Chester and Lancaster counties also will be electing sheriffs, county council members, school board members, a coroner, a congressmen and state legislators. They also will decide local referendums dealing with Sunday alcohol sales and a state referendum on whether the governor and lieutenant governor should be required to run on the same ticket.
All in all, those down-ticket races and referendums are likely to have a much greater immediate impact on life in our communities than the presidential race. But if you want to play a part in deciding who represents us in those posts, you have to be a registered voter.
If you are not already registered, you must sign up by Saturday to cast a ballot in this year’s elections. So far this year, York County has registered 7,226 voters, but Wanda Hemphill, director of the county’s registration and elections office, said people are starting to show up “by the droves.”
In 2008, the last presidential election year, the county registered 16,000 new voters. The heavy registration was fueled in large part by the campaign of Barack Obama, the first serious African-American contender for a major party nomination.
And in 2008, South Carolina’s Democratic voters had the opportunity to make a real difference in the outcome. Obama’s win in the South Carolina Democratic primary provided crucial momentum in the hard-fought battle with Hillary Clinton for the nomination.
This year, most observers put South Carolina solidly in the camp of Republican Mitt Romney. Again, though, the outcomes of dozens of other races at the local, state and county levels are far less predictable.
Voters from both parties need to participate. If we want our government to reflect the will of the people, the people have to make themselves heard.
While much has been made of South Carolina’s voter ID law approved by the state Legislature this year, it is highly unlikely to be a factor in the November elections. After the law was passed, it was reviewed under the Voting Rights Act by the U.S. Justice Department, which blocked the law because it had the effect of suppressing minority voting.
State officials have sued the Justice Department, demanding that the law be reinstated, but it still is being litigated in federal court. The Supreme Court eventually could rule on the case.
But the issue is unlikely to be decided in time for this election. Even if the court sanctions the law, too little time remains to properly implement it.
So, we can assume it won’t be a factor on Election Day. Voters will need only their voter registration cards, not a photo ID, to cast a ballot at their precincts.
But you will need that voter registration card if you don’t have one. To get one in person, go to the York County Voter Registration and Elections Office in the E.C. Black Building 13 S. Congress St., York. The office is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
You also can get an application online at scvotes.org, or pick one up at any York County public library. Or you can mail forms to the election office.
Applicants must have a valid photo ID or a copy of a bill, bank statement, paycheck or government document showing name and address as proof of residence. For more information, call the elections office at 803-684-1242.
Voting is a right, one people shed blood to earn. It also is a privilege, an opportunity we should welcome to help determine who represents us in this participatory democracy and to chart the direction our society will take.
We hope local residents will do the work necessary not only to become a registered voter but also an informed voter. Because, in the end, voting is not just a right or a privilege but also a sacred responsibility.