Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Jimmy Carter [exact date unavailable], 1974. Interview A-0066. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The end of the county unit system increases the importance of voter participation

Changes in how counties vote in state legislatures have increased the significance of reaching out to voters rather than local leaders.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Jimmy Carter [exact date unavailable], 1974. Interview A-0066. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JACK BASS:
What was the political impact in Georgia of the end of the county unit system?
JIMMY CARTER:
Well, I think that as far as a control or influence in the state legislature, it hasn't been as profound as had been expected. But I think that was a major factor in breaking down this spokesman role in individual counties, in the political process. You know, it used to be that the tiny counties would have two votes, and Atlanta would have six, and Macon would have four. Well, this meant that thirty small counties with less population than Atlanta, as you well know, would have sixty votes and Atlanta would have six votes. And it made it possible for large amounts of both money and other kinds of influence to be exerted to win the votes in the small counties. It also meant that the fewer people that you could have voting in a county, the better off a statewide candidate would be. If he could trade with some powerful figure in a county, and that powerful figure could pay haulers or actually pay for votes, or influence them through bank loans or through other mechanisms, and then try to exclude the other people from voting at all, you could deliver that county's unit vote. So that's one of the main things in Georgia, at least, that helped to build and perpetuate this powerful special interest control over the governmental mechanism. And that was broken down. And it meant that every individual vote in the small counties was equal to all others. And the isolation of individual voter became of much less importance. So I think the end of the county unit system contributed substantially to what I characterize in some of my speeches as the new freedom. The inclination of individual voters to speak for themselves, and inclination of candidates to get out and campaign. Eight years ago, if I had been running for governor, I would have gone to the county seat and gone into a back room with an appropriate official-say a judge or a sheriff or some other official in business or banking-and I would have had a secret conversation with him. And if the conversation had been satisfactory, I would have left that county and gone on and never worried about the votes. He would deliver the votes by excluding some others and by buying others, in a legal or illegal manner. Now, when I go to a county, I avoid people like that.