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Editorial: Primary offers a limited menu
Even with more contested races, ballot lacks diversity of backgrounds, ideas
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Head to a coffee shop these days and the number of options on the menu will give you more jitters than the java. Same with most fast-food restaurants, shoe stores, auto dealers. And don’t get us started on the supermarket cereal aisle that seems to stretch to the horizon.

Americans love choices, the more the better.

But when Georgia voters head to the polls Tuesday to select party nominees for the fall election, they will order off a very limited menu.

Look at the local candidates on the ballot and you’ll notice most have a few things in common: They’re men. They’re middle-aged or older. They’re white. They’re conservative.

Their views and backgrounds may vary a bit, but they’re about as different as crunchy and smooth peanut butter — they share the same ingredients, even if your kid loves one and won’t touch the other.

Among those running in the contested races in Hall County, 16 are men. Three are women, two of them minorities. Michelle Hall is running for state court judge, a nonpartisan race, against John Breakfield.

The rest of the diversity is on the Democratic ballot, which is a short one in this region.

Angela Middleton, a black woman, is running for Hall County Board of Commissioners’ District 4, which includes Gainesville, where 15.2 percent of the population is black and 41.6 percent is Hispanic. Michelle Jones, a Hispanic woman, is running for state House District 30, which covers South Hall.

Why would we expect any different when in the last state primary in 2012, 40 percent of active white male voters cast ballots, while the highest minority voter turnout was 10.3 percent of active black female voters, and 7.8 percent of active black male voters, according to Secretary of State data. Just 3.6 percent of active Hispanic voters, male or female, turned out to the polls. White women voted at a rate of 35.6 percent.

As for the number of registered voters overall, black and white percentages both fall below those of the overall population: 6.3 percent of black voters compared to 8.1 percent of the overall population; whites are 78 percent of the voting population and 87.3 percent overall.

Hispanics are 27.5 percent of the population, but only 5.5 percent of registered voters. Only 15.8 percent of the population is foreign born, according to the census, though data on citizenship was not collected.

And then there’s that ever-present reality that half of the population and almost half of registered voters, 48.8 percent as of March, are women — yet just 15.8 percent of candidates are women in this week’s race.

On Tuesday, the options are set. Those who don’t see candidates who represent their views may just stay home, as they have in the past. Some may come back in November and choose between a Democrat and a Republican in two races, but the other six will be decided in the primary.

But if voters seeking more diversity of ideas stay home, what motivation does a minority candidate have to spend the time, money and effort to run in the next election?

The hard reality is most people who run for high office fit a couple of logistic profiles to even consider such a move: They have money, stature in the community and the free time to seek office. When you peel away those who fit that profile, you’re going to get a majority of retired or semi-retired older, white, male professionals.

So what is a young, female minority voter to do? Likely hold her nose in the same way many will as they vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton in November — or just stay home. Perhaps she agrees with the candidates on some issues, but others she cares about may be ignored: paid maternity leave, access to public transportation, expanding public education, access to health care, etc. When all representatives come from the same background, it’s hard to perceive what those from other backgrounds seek from their government leaders.

It’s not that we have anything against gray-haired conservative men, many of whom serve well in office. But when the menu only has steak on it, it doesn’t appeal to those who might prefer chicken, fish or tamales. Their votes and voices count, too. For their sake, and to create more robust debates and competitive races, future ballots should reflect the diversity of backgrounds, ages, genders and ideas that make our community the special place it is.

As always, we encourage everyone to vote, whether the options are good, bad or ugly. If you want better choices in the future, that begins by remaining an active participant today and in the future.

After the election, remember that all elected officials still work for you whether you supported them or not. Share your concerns through emails, calls, Tweets or letters. You have the right, even the responsibility, to make your desires known.

When voters speak up, the choices can change. When they stay quiet, the menu will remain the same.

To send a letter to the editor, use this form or send to letters@gainesvilletimes.com. The Times editorial board includes Publisher Charlotte Atkins, General Manager Norman Baggs, Editor Keith Albertson and Managing Editor Shannon Casas.

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