FORT MILL -- Where the cheeseburgers are is almost always the best place to find out about local elections. When the guy behind the counter at P&W Grill on U.S. 21 Business in Fort Mill said Monday, "Danny Funderburk? I used to baby-sit him," you know the speaker has some history in the town that has an election today.
Perry Bailey isn't sure whether Funderburk will unseat 24-year incumbent Charles Powers for mayor, but Bailey knows them both. That's the joy of small-place elections: You might have baby-sat somebody asking for the vote.
No spin doctors, no TV ads, just regular guys such as Funderburk and Powers asking regular guys like Bailey and his customers for support.
"There's some come in here say Charlie Powers is done for, some say he'll get back in," Bailey said. "But it all comes down to how many go out and vote. Anybody can say something. Whether they go vote, that's something else."
One guy, 31, on the customer side of the counter, said he's never even registered to vote, let alone voted. Farther down, another guy who said he isn't voting lit a cigar and said, "Don't matter who runs, they is all the same anyway."
That guy is right -- only that politicians are all the same for people who can't be bothered to vote. That guy deserves whatever he gets.
In the middle, sat a young guy named Jared Funderburk -- no relation to the Danny Funderburk running for mayor -- who decided right then and there between bites that he was voting today. Funderburk said he hadn't voted since the last presidential election in 2004.
"Come to think of it, politicians dictate major parts of our lives," he said.
You got it, Jared. Local politicians like the mayor and three council seats up for grabs in Fort Mill decide how many police officers and firefighters protect old ladies and little kids. Which roads get built and fixed, if developers get the go-ahead to build hundreds of new houses.
"I'm gonna go vote," Funderburk said. "It's time for people to stop thinking about it and do something."
Bravo, Jared. What a beautiful thing, the vote. You don't have to know anything special, be rich, drive a fancy car. If you are registered, and 5,587 people in the town of Fort Mill are, you can vote.
Or you can blame everybody else afterward.
In Fort Mill, the election is so local, so close to home, you get a chance to decide who is mayor between two guys who have been around so long that Powers has a few campaign signs that state, "Re-elect our Paw-Paw." On the sign are the first names of Powers' grandchildren.
Funderburk has been in Fort Mill all his life but doesn't have to say so because seven people Monday sitting around at Jimmy's tire recapping shop on Banks Street all knew it. A tire shop isn't far behind where the cheeseburgers get gone for good gossip.
At Hardee's, the lady with the cheeseburger was 79 years old with the name of Mary Broom. She remembers how her father would close up the family farm on election day so everybody could go to town and vote. She's been voting "since Ike was president."
A couple of weeks ago, I blasted Rock Hill's weak voter turnout in its municipal election -- a lame effort of less than 4 percent -- and Broom said Monday she remembered that story.
"I couldn't agree with you more," she said.
Since I love to listen people who agree with me -- they are rarer than bosses who buy drinks, and that is a species that may be extinct -- I listened to Broom some more. She doesn't want to hear any nonsense about people claiming not knowing when elections are, so not bothering to vote. Or not having interesting candidates, so not voting. Whatever.
Fort Mill has had such tight elections that three times in the past 10 years runoffs have been needed to decide Town Council seats. One school board race two years ago was a tie that needed a runoff. Every loser in those races knows the value of every vote, and I bet each candidate heard every excuse why somebody couldn't be bothered to vote.
Broom summed up what voting means this way. "If people expect a free country, where leaders have to listen to the people, then people better get out off their rear ends and vote," Broom said. "As far as privileges I have in this country go, voting is right there on top."