ATLANTA - Campaign supporters are waving signs. Voters are filling out ballots. And candidates are making their final appeals.
Election Day started Monday in Georgia, more than a week before its scheduled date, Nov. 7.
County elections offices statewide opened up polls for a week of early voting.
As the convenience of advance and absentee voting catches on with Georgians wanting to avoid Election Day lines, candidates are revising their final campaign pushes.
"The last three weeks of any campaign are absolutely critical, and no week is more critical than the last week," Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Taylor said.
Advance voting was first used in Georgia in the 2004 presidential election. During the primaries earlier this year, 70,000 people voted in advance.
With statewide offices, including the race for governor and lieutenant governor, and congressional contests on this year's ballots, election officials are expecting a steady stream of early voters until advance voting ends Friday.
"We got here at quarter to 8 (a.m.), and people were already waiting," Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections Supervisor Gail Schrader said Monday afternoon. "We're very busy. I haven't had lunch yet."
This is the first major election in which Georgians do not have to provide an excuse to request an absentee ballot.
Early and absentee voting also has forced candidates to make their final campaign pushes sooner.
"As of Monday, I think all the campaigns are going into really high gear," said Kevin Cherry, a Libertarian candidate for the Public Service Commission. "We intend to flood the market with as many campaign signs and radio ads as possible."
In Augusta, 1,165 voters cast early ballots Monday, said Lynn Bailey, the executive director of the Richmond County Board of Elections. She said turnout was at an expected level.
"The further we get into advance voting this week, the more people will go out," she said.
She said 1,800 of the 4,141 absentee ballots mailed out have been returned to her office, a figure she said is a little below expectations.
Ralph Walker, a political science professor at Augusta State University, voted Monday at a west Augusta polling spot. He said that throughout the rest of the day he was stopped by people who saw his "I Voted" sticker and asked him how he had already cast a ballot.
"I don't think most people are really aware of it yet," he said. "I think it will increase toward the middle of the week."
In Columbia County, officials said 603 people took advantage of early voting Monday.
"It was very busy today, especially at the library," said Debbie Marshall, the county's board of elections director.
She said that as of Friday, the most recent figures available, more than 1,500 people had voted absentee in Columbia County, which she said is average for a state general election.
Mrs. Marshall said she is expecting 35 percent turnout in the county, which has 62,257 active registered voters.
In Richmond County, which has 93,714 registered voters, Mrs. Bailey said she expects about a 55 percent turnout, noting that Augusta's mayoral race should spur the higher turnout.
Pre-election voting in Aiken County started Oct. 23, and about 650 people have visited the Voter Registration and Elections Office to cast ballots, Executive Director Stuart Bedenbaugh said. An additional 1,500 have mailed in ballots.
That's roughly half the number of voters who turned out at this point before the 2004 presidential election.
"The interest has not been as great," Mr. Bedenbaugh said.
In the Palmetto State, voters must be at least 65 or unable to vote on the designated day because of professional, educational or health reasons.
"We still have a limited pool of voters" who can cast ballots early, Mr. Bedenbaugh said. "In Georgia, instead of one election day, they've got 10 election days."
Staff Writers Preston Sparks and Josh Gelinas contributed to this story.
Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (404) 681-1701 or email@example.com.
When: 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. today through Friday
Where: Board of Elections office on Greene Street, the Henry Brigham Recreation Center on Golden Camp Road and the Warren Road Recreation Center
When: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. today through Thursday and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday
Where: Patriots Park on Columbia Road in Grovetown, at Savannah Rapids Pavilion on Evans to Locks Road and at the Columbia County Library on North Belair Road
When: 9 a.m. until noon Saturday
Where: Voter Registration and Elections office at 916 Vaucluse Road
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