800,000 Georgians sought early voting

ATLANTA -- Not everyone waits until the last minute when it comes to voting, since 800,000 Georgians sought to get it out of the way already, according to figures released by the Secretary of State’s Office Monday morning.

Those who did wait to vote in person should remember to bring a photo ID and leave their Tea Party items at home.

Georgians can vote any time up to 45 days before Election Day, either with a mail-in ballot that is traditionally called absentee voting, or in person on a machine. When the early voting period ended Friday, 85 percent had been cast in person.

The mail-in ballots must be received by Tuesday, except military ballots which are still counted if received by Friday. More than 2,000 members of the military have taken advantage of a new option this year to get their ballots electronically rather than mailing a request and waiting for the mail to return a paper ballot.

So, what will the turnout be when all of the votes are finally counted?

Two years ago, 53 percent of the ballots were cast early. If the same pattern held this year, it would result in an unusually low turnout. But then, voters behave differently in presidential elections.

Using the absentee voting pattern of the last gubernatorial election in 2006 to predict would forecast an usually high turnout comparable with the last presidential race.

Trying to gauge turnout by using either pattern is risky, according to Secretary of State spokesman Matt Carrothers. That’s because in 2006, voters had to swear they would be out of town on election day to get an absentee ballot, and starting in 2008, they could vote early simply for the convenience of it.

Also, polling officials spent months talking up early voting as a way to avoid the expected long lines in the last presidential election after registration drives swelled the voter rolls.

“We’re not going to see most of those votes cast in advance this year,” said Charles Bullock, political science professor at the University of Georgia. He estimated turnout this year would be in the range of 40 percent.

Georgia Republican Chairwoman Sue Everhart says despite 150 volunteers busy Monday trying to spur turnout, the actual vote may be modest.

“I haven’t seen the enthusiasm they say they’re having in Nevada,” she said, adding that her party has pushed turnout more than it did in ‘08. “I don’t think we’ve been any more aggressive than we’ve been for this cycle.”

Turnout was 78 percent in ‘08 when President Barrack Obama was elected, although he lost in Georgia to John McCain. It was 48 percent and 54 percent in 2002 when Republicans first took the governor’s mansion, the last time Democrat Roy Barnes was on the ballot.

The five counties getting the most early voting activity are Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, Gwinnett and Henry. Broken down by race, 29 percent of the early ballots were requested by blacks and 67 percent by whites. That compares to the total vote breakdown in ‘08 of 30 percent blacks and 61 percent whites, but early voters may not fit the same demographic patterns as the final total.

So far, there haven’t been any glitches, Carrothers said.

“We’re very pleased with the way the counties have administered the election,” he said. “It is our hope and expectation that continues tomorrow.”

However, Secretary of State Brian Kemp did brief local officials last week on the need to avoid problems by keeping out anyone wearing Tea Party hats, buttons or T-shirts. It’s not that Kemp, a conservative Republican who’s on the ballot himself this year, wants to distance himself from that grassroots movement. He’s relying on a long-standing state law that prohibits “electioneering” within 150 feet of buildings where voting takes place.

“This is not a new rule by Secretary Kemp,” Carrothers said.

The prohibition includes any printed material about any candidate, including bumper stickers or campaign flyers listing a slate of candidates.


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