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Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

What if they held an election and nobody came? We almost found out

The turnout for Charlotte’s primary elections on Tuesday was, in a word, abysmal. WFAE’s Tommy Tomlinson, in his On My Mind commentary, looks at some of the reasons.

I have a confession to make: I completely whiffed on voting in last week’s Charlotte primary elections.

I don’t think I’ve missed more than a couple of elections since I moved here 30 years ago. It would be nice to have a good excuse this time around, like the dog ate my voter guide or something, but the truth is, I got busy that day and just forgot.

It wasn’t just me. Far from it.

Only about 5% of eligible voters showed up for Tuesday’s primary. I say “eligible voters” because there were no Republicans in primaries this time around, so only Democrats and unaffiliated voters could vote.

There were other practical reasons turnout was low. It’s an off-cycle year, meaning there was no primary for governor or Congress or president. There also wasn’t a serious contender for Mayor Vi Lyles, so she won easily.

But even given all that, Charlotte lags behind other cities. WFAE’s Steve Harrison couldn’t find another major city where turnout was so low in a similar election. In a city that strives to be the best in everything, we are the worst.

Part of the reason might be Charlotte’s insistence on holding partisan city elections. Steve looked at America’s 50 largest cities, and only six others hold separate Democratic and Republican primaries. The rest hold nonpartisan elections, where you don’t have to declare a party affiliation.

Charlotte is a heavily Democratic city, so the theory is that a moderately conservative candidate might have a better chance if he or she didn’t have to run as a Republican. The other problem is that a big chunk of voters identify as unaffiliated. Currently, if you want to run for office as an unaffiliated voter, you have to petition to get on the ballot. That requires a Mount Everest of paperwork.

So we’ve got a system where a lot of potential voters are effectively locked out of the primary, and some potential candidates are effectively locked out of running.

But even that doesn’t quite explain why turnout is so low.

My theory is that many people move to Charlotte from cities with bigger problems. They get here and life seems pretty good. So they don’t engage as much as they might if they had more to gripe about.

It’s still not an excuse. Voting is the one clear signal we can send to our government about our desires. It’s the deepest connection we have to a system that sometimes seems beyond us.

And in this climate, where so many conspirators falsely claim that elections are rigged, the strongest statement of faith we can make is to show up and vote.

Charlotte, we’ve got to do better.

Tommy Tomlinson’s "On My Mind" column runs Mondays on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

Tommy Tomlinson has hosted the podcast SouthBound for WFAE since 2017. He also does a commentary, On My Mind, which airs every Monday.