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City election results’ message a muddle

There’s an old joke about a fake letter being sent out by dishonest political operatives saying voters of their party should show up on Election Day and those of the opposing party should vote on some other date.
That may have come to mind for some when the newspaper advertisement for one candidate in Friday’s edition accidentally urged voters to support him on Saturday instead of Tuesday. The error was unfortunate, but he won the election anyway.
More to the point, what happened on Election Day didn’t matter in the two City Council races. They were not decided by voters participating on Tuesday, who overwhelmingly backed the losing candidates. Instead, a deluge of absentee votes, both traditional mail-ins and the newfangled “One-Stop” votes, determined the result. There’s a block of protests about a small number of absentee votes. It’s a serious matter but not enough votes are at stake to change anything in the city races. The bottom line is that the absentees had carried the day before the polls ever opened, except in the mayor’s race.
Another error appeared on the front page of Monday’s edition, in which a reporter covering her first general election in Lincolnton wrote that polls would be open at the Citizens Center on Tuesday. While that was true, she clearly and incorrectly believed that this was the only place for voting, which more than a few readers apparently thought this implied. The editor, who should have caught the error, didn’t. The item was eventually corrected online, but did generate some confusion on Election Day.
In any case, that mistake was party-neutral, unless one thinks members of a certain party are more prone to confusion than the other, or that members of some party are less likely to be misled by printed material because of their high illiteracy rates. We’ll leave to the hardcore partisan politicos among us any discussion of which parties that might be true of.
Like mistakes in the newspaper, this election’s results are a muddle. Voters clearly like Mayor Gilleland and preferred his vision for the city over that of Pam Huskey. But his coattails didn’t help his fellow Republicans and it’s not clear why so many people voted for the mayor but not for those who would give him the votes on the council he needs to accomplish anything.
Perhaps the voters just went for the names with which they were most familiar. Whatever the reason, voters chose to stick with the Democratic incumbents on the City Council.
In the case of Dr. John “Les” Cloninger, voter preference for him was clear. While trailing challenger Sam Ausband Jr. in votes cast on Election Day, Cloninger had a comfortable cushion after picking up a commanding edge in the absentees.
A much closer race between Larry Mac Hovis and Tim Shain again offers a muddled answer about what voters really want.
Maybe the clearest message came from the seven out of 10 Lincolnton voters who voted with their feet and stayed home. They had better not complain about anything for the next two years, but odds are they will.
Let’s hope voters can figure out what they want before next year, when we pick county commissioners, school board, legislators, members of Congress, governor and president, among others.

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