Although the ballots won’t be counted until after 7 p.m. on May 20, the early voting period provides extra convenience for people who may be traveling on Election Day or trying to avoid meeting a boorish neighbor at the precinct.
Friday, Secretary of State Brian Kemp said his office has just completed stress testing the system to ensure the electronic voting machines in each county will work flawlessly.
“They’re ready. The counties have been working very hard. We have a lot of good things going on. We’re communicating daily with them,” he said.
The primary is open to all registered voters. Anyone can request either a Republican, Democratic or nonpartisan ballot. The two party ballots will allow voters to select their choice of nominee in each race to face the other party’s nominee in November’s general election. Nonpartisan ballots will only contain the names of judicial candidates and, in Augusta, those running for mayor. Those opting for Republican or Democratic ballots also get to vote on the nonpartisan contests.
Kemp said there is no way to predict the voter turnout or how much of the total vote will be done early.
“I think there are people who just don’t realize that it’s getting close to the election. But the same could be said of the July primary when they were wrapped up in vacations and such,” he said.
Last year, federal Judge Steven Jones ordered the election date moved from the summer date to spring to allow ample time for ballots casts by overseas members of the military to arrive before the July 22 runoff. So, this will be the first time primaries have been held in May.
Another reason for low turnout is the low visibility of the races on the primary ballot -- U.S. senator, governor, superintendent of schools and so forth -- compared to the attention commanded by a presidential election, notes Daniel Franklin, a political science professor at Georgia State University.
Then there are people who can’t decide between candidates within the same party who all have essentially the same positions, he said. Only party stalwarts who keep up with the candidates personally are more enthusiastic about picking between them.
“They really become sort of insider affairs,” he said.
Some nonpolitical voters would like to be able to vote across party lines to support their favorite candidates in various races, but that’s not allowed because the idea is that the members of each party are voting on who they want to represent them in the general election. That means Republicans vote in the GOP primary while Democrats vote in theirs.
But since Georgia doesn’t require voters to declare their membership in a particular party when they register to vote like other states do, it means any voter can request either party’s ballot -- but not both. So, the primary isn’t just a preliminary election to narrow the field before narrowing it again to just one this fall.
The alternative would be for parties to hold conventions to pick their nominees. That has the advantage of people who personally know the candidates making the decision, Franklin said.
On the other hand, candidates picked in conventions haven’t had to appeal to voters during a primary, sometimes resulting in nominees who turn out to be terrible at campaigning, Franklin observed.