FAQS on how to vote like you know what you’re doing

Frequently Asked Questions about local civic engagement, with a little bit of snark

I live on Wilmington Island. Can I vote for Savannah Mayor?

No. No you cannot.

You live in what’s called “unincorporated Chatham County,” such as people who live in Isle of Hope, Skidaway Island, parts of Georgetown, for example, and other areas outside any city limits.

Only residents within Savannah city limits can vote in the Savannah municipal election. If you live in any other town or city within Chatham County, you can vote in that city or town’s municipal election.

Countywide elections are next year.

But I thought the city and county merged a long time ago?

No. You may be thinking of the now-defunct merger of the Savannah Police and Chatham County Police, which is no longer in effect. We don’t have consolidated city/county government here.

click to enlarge FAQS on how to vote like you know what you’re doing
Photo by Geoff L. Johnson

What if I live in Pooler or Tybee? Can I vote in those cities AND in Savannah city elections?

No. No you cannot. You are only eligible to vote in the city in which you reside.

But I commute to work into Savannah every day — why don’t I have the right to vote for Savannah officials?

That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.

The basis of citizenship is that you vote where you live. That ensures fair and equitable representation at the grassroots and neighborhood levels, all the way up to the federal level. Otherwise, only the most economically powerful cities and areas would enjoy full representation.

But my mailing address says Savannah! Why can’t I vote in Savannah?

The borders of mailing addresses aren’t necessarily the same as the borders of cities and voting districts. Voting districts aren’t dictated by U.S. Postal Service designations.

So if I don’t live in any city or town, and just live in unincorporated Chatham County — why the hell should I vote this year at all?

Great question. There is actually a very important ballot referendum this year, which all voters in Chatham County are eligible to vote on: SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax).

SPLOST is a one-percent sales tax on most every transaction within Chatham County, no matter where in the county. This money goes to capital projects and public works.

Sometimes the expenditures are quite controversial and involve huge amounts of taxpayer money — your money.

For more, see our explainer here.

I don’t know any of these people, I just vote for the party. How do I know who is a Democrat or a Republican?

Technically you don’t — all municipal elections in Chatham County are nonpartisan, which means no political party is involved in choosing candidates, and candidates don’t openly campaign as standing for one party or another.

However, in actual practice many candidates do tend to identify with one party or another. Do your own research, or ask the candidates directly.

I don’t really care about everything on the ballot — can I just vote for Mayor?

Yes, you absolutely can just vote for Mayor, or just for the offices you want to vote for. You are not required to vote for any office or ballot question you don’t want to.

But FYI, if you live in the City of Savannah, you are actually represented by no fewer than four elected officials: The Mayor, your District Alderperson, and both Alderman at Large positions.

I’ve heard that early votes aren’t counted?

Early votes are definitely counted. You might be thinking of absentee or provisional ballots, which sometimes aren’t counted unless it’s a close election and/or a recount scenario.

I can’t wait to use the new voting machines I’ve heard about.

Us too, but that doesn’t happen until 2020. This year we’ll all be using those same machines with the little cards —probably for the final time.

I keep hearing about a runoff election — what’s the deal with that?

In the City of Savannah and all other municipal elections on the ballot throughout the County, a candidate needs to get over 50 percent of the vote in order to win.

If no one gets over 50 percent, a runoff is held a few weeks later between the top two vote-getters for that office.

It happens fairly frequently in Savannah — the last mayoral election, between current incumbent Mayor Eddie DeLoach and former Mayor Edna Jackson, was decided by a runoff election.

There is no need for a runoff if a candidate gets 50 percent of the vote plus one or more.


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