Area election observers are expecting a healthy if somewhat more Democratic-leaning turnout during Tuesday’s general election, general primary and referendum on the Transportation Investment Act.
In a race expected to pull many Republicans over to the Democratic ticket in the primary, Richmond County voters will select partisan candidates for sheriff on the November ballot.
Voters casting Democratic ballots early at Augusta’s Warren Road precinct, typically a Republican stronghold, have outnumbered Republicans by 2 to 1, according to Board of Elections Executive Director Lynn Bailey.
“That’s not typically what we see over there,” Bailey said.
Republican strategist Dave Barbee said he expects at least half of voters who typically vote Republican to pick a Democratic ballot in order to weigh in on that party’s four-way sheriff’s race, where Capt. Scott Peebles is a frontrunner, and in the clerk of superior court’s race, where incumbent Elaine Johnson faces a challenge from Hattie Holmes Sullivan.
“Half our voters are crossed over,” said Barbee, a former party official.
Barbee is active in the campaign of Wright McLeod, one of four candidates seeking the Republican nomination for Congress from the 12th District. The 19-county district, redrawn after the 2010 census by state legislators to favor a Republican candidate, now includes all of Augusta and Evans.
McLeod, an Augusta attorney, faces Augusta businessman Rick Allen, state Rep. Lee Anderson of Grovetown and Dublin attorney Maria Sheffield for the Republican nomination. The winner will face Democrat John Barrow in November.
Peebles faces three other sheriff candidates – law enforcement lieutenants John Ivey, Richard Roundtree and Robbie Silas – on the Democratic primary ballot. Two other sheriff candidates, Freddie Sanders and Mike Godowns, are on the Republican ballot.
The winners of each primary will face each other Nov. 6.
The crossover trend hasn’t escaped the notice of Lowell Greenbaum, chairman of the Richmond County Democratic Party, who said the party is making sure its faithful aren’t skipping the primary.
“We don’t want the Republicans running our primary,” Greenbaum said.
The other big issue, regardless of which ballot a voter selects, is a referendum on the Transportation Investment Act, also known as the T-SPLOST. If voters across a 13-county region approve the referendum, sales taxes will go up another cent on each dollar for 10 years, and funds collected will pay for 85 transportation construction projects across the region, including work estimated to cost $302 million in Richmond County.
A poll conducted in June by the Georgia Transportation Alliance, a statewide agency established to promote the new tax, found that 59 percent of Augusta-area primary voters supported the T-SPLOST.
Other elections Tuesday include the race for Augusta Circuit Chief Superior Court Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet’s seat. Overstreet is opposed by Juvenile Court Judge Willie Saunders in the nonpartisan race.
In Columbia County, voters are also choosing a chief magistrate, two county commissioners, two school board members and a Republican contender for state House, as well as deciding whether to allow alcohol sales on Sundays.
Bailey said voters should remember to bring a photo ID and be aware they will have to select from among the three ballots – Democratic, Republican and nonpartisan. If a runoff is necessary, voters cannot switch parties between the primary and the runoff. Weather is expected to be sunny in the morning with possible showers in the afternoon.
Predicting up to 35 percent total turnout in Richmond County, Bailey added that preparation for Tuesday’s 7 a.m. voting start had gone “quite well” and that the only issue she anticipated was confusion over the ballot choice and the move of some precincts from the 10th Congressional District to the 12th.