By BROOKE DOSS
KENNESAW, Ga. — As the 2016 presidential election quickly approaches, the subject of voting is becoming increasingly relevant and is the subject of many studies being conducted across the nation.
Many wonder who will win the nominations, who will be the next president and how those outcomes will affect their lives, their communities and their country. The question that can provide the answers to all other questions is simple: Who is going to show up at the voting polls?
Cobb County has experienced positive voter turnout, compared to many other counties in Georgia and throughout the nation. In total, 74.9 percent of Cobb County voters cast ballots in the presidential election of 2012. This was slightly above the nationwide voter turnout that year, which amounted to 66.7 percent of eligible voters.
The Republican Party historically wins elections in Cobb County, but in recent years the distance between the total number of votes each party received has grown more slim.
Of the 311,245 ballots cast in Cobb County in 2012, 55.4 percent were for Republican candidate Mitt Romney, while 42.9 percent were for Democratic candidate Barack Obama. The Republican Party won the plurality of the vote, but only by a margin of 12.5 percent.
These numbers closely resemble the statewide results that year, with Romney receiving 53 percent of the Georgia vote and Obama receiving 45 percent (an eight percent margin).
Nationally, although the Democratic Party took the lead, the popular vote was nearly as close, with Obama taking 51 percent and Romney taking 47 percent of the votes (a four percent margin).
Janine Eveler, director of Cobb County Elections and Registration, believes these numbers can continue and will predict the outcome of the 2016 election.
“I would expect the 2016 turnout to be similar to other presidential elections,” Eveler said. “It depends on which candidates are still in the race by that time.”
The close numbers seen in recent Cobb County presidential elections are currently being reflected in several statewide polls, which could possibly serve as another indicator of how the election statistics will stack both in Cobb County and in Georgia as a whole in 2016.
Polls taken by Fox 5/Morris News, WXIA-TV/SurveyUSA and WSB/Landmark all show that 2016 candidate Donald Trump is currently leading the Republican race in Georgia, with a lead of 9.6 percent spread across all three polls. Likewise, candidate Hillary Clinton is leading the Democratic race in each poll, and she is leading by a much larger margin spread across all three, at 43 percent.
WXIA-TV/SurveyUSA polls also show that Trump is leading Clinton as the next president of the United States in Georgia. But he leads by only 9 percent, with 46 percent of those polled saying that they would vote for him and 37 percent choosing Clinton.
While Cobb County experienced a fairly high voter turnout during the presidential elections in Nov. 2012 and 2008, turnout during the presidential preference primaries in March did not see nearly the same results.
In March 2012, only 25 percent of eligible voters participated in the presidential preference primaries, down 23 percent from 2008. This is reflective of national primary voting participation, which is documented to have experienced record low numbers in 2012, with only 15.9 percent of all eligible citizens casting ballots.
The presidential preference primary is an election held for the major political parties (Republican and Democrat) to determine which party candidates should be the nominee for the presidential election in November. However, many people, even those who consider voting participation to be a priority, do not vote in this election. One of the reasons is simply that people do not know it exists.
Laura Merchant, a resident of Cobb County, views voting as her right as an American citizen and believes it is her duty to help select the leader of the country. She also votes in both presidential and primary elections, but she did not vote in the presidential preference primary.
“I would [vote] if I knew what it was,” she said. “It isn’t something that is widely known about. I had to look it up to see what it was.”
A survey conducted at Kennesaw State University revealed that only 13.33 percent of students who completed the survey voted in this election. Of those that did not, 18.18 percent said that they would vote if they knew what the election was.
Blake Zimmerman, a junior and political science major at Kennesaw State University, was one of those students. He said that he believes voting to be his “civic duty.” But Zimmerman said he, too, had never heard of the primary.
While turnout among young voters may be low regarding the presidential preference primary, presidential elections have seen a significant increase in young voter participation over the past three November elections.
National voter turnout in this age group stood at about 30 percent in 1996, but rose to over 40 percent in both 2004 and 2008. This rate dropped slightly in 2012, to 38 percent, but is expected to increase once again in 2016.
Part of the reason for this is the rising desire to vote for the issues that college students care about, such as free college tuition and the legalization of marijuana. Another is growing civil and political activism on college campuses.
Sarah Muncy, a junior and communication major at KSU, said that voting is important to her.
“Your voice is not heard [if you do not vote]. I know many people believe that if you vote it will not make a difference, but I see it as hitting the lottery,” said Muncy. “You can’t win if you don’t play. If you’re angry at how the government is, you should start and try to make a difference. Voice your opinion, attend meetings, write to officials and, the easiest, vote.”
The 2012 voter turnout among the 18-24 age group in Cobb County was 93.7 percent, a number approximately 43.7 percent higher than the percentage of voter turnout within the 18-30 age group nationwide.
Additionally, of all KSU students surveyed, 80 percent answered yes when asked if they would be voting in 2016.
“I’m voting because it is my right as an American citizen. Plus, if I don’t vote, I don’t get to complain about the leadership of this country,” said Merchant.
Involvement of KSU students in the voting process is promoted through channels such as the Center for Election Systems at Kennesaw State University.
The Center was established in 2002 to assist the state of Georgia in transitioning to a statewide, uniform system of voting. Today, the Center provides a wide range of support services to all 159 election offices in Georgia, and, according to director Michael Barnes, “is highly dependent on student assistants to help with the rigors of equipment testing and election preparation.
In 2012, the Cobb County Elections and Registration board worked to attract students to serve as poll workers during elections, in a partnership with KSU political science professor Sarita Gregory.
“We got 26 students to work at the polls as part of that effort,” said Eveler, the director of the organization. Many [more] students did apply but could not work because you are required to be a Cobb resident and they were still registered to vote in their home county.”
Other organizations in Cobb County that promote voter education and participation include the League of Women Voters of Marietta-Cobb County, Cobb County Young Republicans, and Young Democrats of Cobb County.