Early voting kicked off this week for the second consecutive City of Jackson mayoral run-off. Just like in 2019, no candidate in the general mayoral election garnered the magic number of 50% +1 votes needed to win the office. Incumbent Scott Conger received 47% while Ray Condray reached 29.3%. Four other candidates made up the remaining 23.7%. Because Conger and Condray received the highest totals, they advanced to the run-off election.
At first glance, a run-off election would lead anyone to believe that the race was close – that two candidates were neck and neck as they crossed the finished line. A sports fan might compare this to a Game 7 in a hard fought series where each team had won three games and those teams were now on a collision course to see who could come out victorious in the final game.
Well, this isn’t Lebron against Steph in the Finals. It’s not Ali/Frazier in the Garden or Jordan against Bird on my old Atari 2600 gaming console. In fact, this wasn’t a close race to begin with and the run-off will be the same.
Just like this year, the mayoral race in 2019 had multiple candidates – five to be exact. When the number of candidates is stacked that high, reaching the 50% + 1 threshold is nearly impossible. Four years ago, Conger and Jerry Woods made it out of the general election and into the run-off in what was a much closer race than this year’s general election.
In 2019, Conger received 34% of the votes in the general election while Woods received 27% of the votes. Conger defeated Woods by a wide margin in the run-off election, but the general election that year was actually MUCH closer than this year’s.
As Election Day drew closer in the 2023 mayoral race, the politics got uglier…and uglier. I was torn when the results came in on election night. On one hand, as a quasi-member of local media, I was excited because a run-off election meant more content for the next six weeks, but as a citizen I was disappointed to have six more weeks of tension and passive-aggressive pettiness.
Over the last several days, a narrative is forming from Mr. Condray that 53% of voters in Jackson voted for a change; that over half of registered voters would rather someone else in office other than Mayor Conger. While that 53% isn’t disputable, the context around which Mr. Condray is building his case, however, is. There’s an old saying that numbers never lie, but the opposite is actually true. Numbers lie all the time depending on who is choosing to use them.
Let’s build some context around that 53%.
There are roughly 40,000 registered voters in the city of Jackson. About 20% of those voters voted in the mayoral election a few weeks ago. Mr. Condray, however, alludes that 53% of the entire city voted to oust the incumbent; that over half of Jackson isn’t pleased with the direction of the city. That’s not factual. What’s true is that 53% of just over 8,000 people spread their votes over four other candidates rather than vote for Mayor Conger. In fact, if Mr. Condray were to turn that argument around and view it from the context of a percentage of voters that didn’t vote for him, he would see that over 70% of voters wanted something other than what his campaign was offering.
Much like the 53% figure that Mr. Condray has been discussing the idea that a run-off election is the result of a close race also isn’t entirely true.
In the general election, Mayor Conger secured 47% of the votes while Mr. Condray finished a distant second. Mr. Condray secured just over 29% of the votes. Those numbers aren’t close. The only reason this is a run-off is because of the 50%+1 rule…which I do agree with, by the way. If someone is going to be mayor of a city, they need to secure over half of the total votes…especially when the voter turnout is only 8,000 and those votes are spread over five candidates. But the fact that a run-off election means that voters are torn over the two candidates in said election isn’t a given. In this case specifically, it’s not at all true.
If the first day of early voting is any indication, voter turnout has a chance to eclipse 10,000 in this run-off.. While 25% of the voting population turning out to vote isn’t something to cheer, it’s better than 8,000. It’s also going to show that this was never really close to begin with.
In the original race – with six candidates on the ballot – Mayor Conger garnered 47% of the votes. The closest candidate (Mr. Condray) wasn’t able to reach 30%. Voter turnout in elections often correlates with the overall satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) with the incumbent. If over half of Jackson wanted a change in leadership, voter turnout would’ve been much higher than 8,000.
Now that there are two candidates, we’re three weeks from seeing the end result of what would’ve been evident had there not been so many candidates in the general election – a decisive win by Scott Conger.