GOTV — or Else 

Whether a now dismissed lawsuit by mainly Democratic plaintiffs seeking to invalidate the August 5th county election results as "incurably uncertain" gets a second hearing or not, there is one fact about that election that is certain enough:

Democratic turnout, both in early voting and on Election Day, was sub-par, while Republicans came out in unprecedented numbers.

That trend was perceived and commented upon with virtual unanimity by observers at all points of the political spectrum, and it did as much as the lukewarm evidence presented in Chancellor Arnold Goldin's court to undermine the case for overturning the election, at least in the public mind. Getting out the vote is so basic a mission in political circles that the initials which stand for it, GOTV, are an integral part of election-year vocabulary.

The party or faction or cause which fails on the GOTV scale usually loses the election. It's really that simple. And there's another problem associated with under-strength voting. It can result in election results that actually run counter to the purposes of the election being held. Numerous analysts looking at the results of the Shelby County Democrats' failure in the late county election cite an underwhelming roster of party nominees as one likely cause of the party's defeat. And they further conclude that the minute turnout for the May primary election is what skewed the results in favor of retread candidates who owned both pre-existing name recognition and, in too many cases, personal baggage.

The forthcoming election on November 2nd — early voting for which begins this week — presents several key choices that need to be addressed and made by voters in Memphis and Shelby County. Prominent among them is the referendum on city/county consolidation. A decision on this hotly debated issue will — quite literally — determine the immediate and long-range future of every one of us, with consequences ranging from economic development to the tax burden to the way in which we all choose to define and regard ourselves.

Voters in several county municipalities have contested races on their hands, and four Memphis school board races are on the ballot. A governor's race will decide who will steer the rudder of state government during the forthcoming years of continuing economic scarcity and political turmoil. Voters in all three of the congressional districts included within Memphis/Shelby County — the 7th, the 8th, and the 9th — have clear choices in contested races. At least one of those districts — the 8th, featuring a race to the finish between Democrat Roy Herron and Republican Stephen Fincher — is considered up for grabs. And, though the incumbents are heavily favored in the 9th and 7th districts, respectively, voters can make clear and perceptible statements about their wishes regarding public policy by the volume of their votes. And 2010 has already proven itself to be a year of unpredictable outcomes.

All of this amounts to pragmatic reasons for going to the polls, either during early voting, October 13th to 28th, or on November 2nd. The real best reason, however, is the grand imperative of citizenship itself. Ultimately, the one thing — the only thing — that defines a democratic system is the power to vote.

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