Frustrated by his community’s low voter turnout, a Buckhead resident is taking three months off from his job to encourage his neighbors to go to polls this November.
Justin Wiedeman, an accountant and Chastain Park neighborhood resident, announced at the September Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods meeting that he would leave his full-time job until after the Nov. 7 election to take on this effort.
“The trends are clear. Our neighbors are not as engaged and not participating to the degree they did in the past. We need to turn that around,” Wiedeman said later.
“I’m fortunate I can spend the time to do that and have the resources to do that,” he said.
Wiedeman said he has been engaged in local politics for over 30 years, beginning when his father held fundraisers for candidates at his family’s home. He has worked with individual candidates in the past, but said this effort will not focus on specific campaigns.
“I’m not concerned about who people are supporting,” he said. “I’m hoping it will be a unifying effort.”
Wiedeman is a third-generation Buckhead resident, and he said that contributes to his dedication to helping Buckhead turnout. His parents and cousins still live near Pace Academy, he said.
As the contests for Atlanta City Council and mayor heat up, Wiedeman said he is concerned the negativity between some campaigns could turn residents off from voting.
“We have a very polarized climate. I’m afraid as a result, people will just not vote,” Wiedeman said.
Since 2001, voter turnout for mayoral and council elections has been about cut in half, a sign people now need more motivation to vote, Wiedeman said.
In 2001, turnout of registered voters was recorded at 36.5 percent in Buckhhead’s City Council District 7 and 47 percent in District 8. In 2013, those numbers fell to 17 percent and 23 percent, according to Wiedeman’s data and the Fulton County Board of Elections archives.
“In looking at the Buckhead districts voting patterns, the trend over time is negative as voter turnout has continued to fall,” he said.
Other than believing voting is responsibility of residents, Wiedeman also hopes a strong turnout from Buckhead will force elected officials to pay more attention to the area.
“It’s critical that our neighbors get out and vote. If we want the next administration to address suffocating levels of traffic, collapsing streets, storm sewers, sewage spills as well as flooding, we must be engaged and we must vote,” he said.
Wiedeman said he is nailing down strategies he and other volunteers will use to bump up voter turnout. He is considering distributing generic voting signs that don’t note a particular candidate or race.
He said he will analyze urnout to find what precincts typically draw the highest and lowest turnouts and may attempt to unofficially pit precinct against precinct in a turnout competition — one idea thrown out at the Buckhead Council meeting.
“Some competition could be good,” he said.
He said he will not provide meals or money in exchange for voting and said his group will also not hire vehicles to drive people to polling locations.
The effort will also only focus on turnout and not on registration because most people are already registered, he said.
Wiedeman can be contacted at BuckheadMustVote@gmail.com for more information.