Voter turnout appears to be low in Houston, Bibb

March 6, 2012 

Turnout in Houston County, where voters are deciding a sales tax referendum in addition to the Republican presidential primary, appeared to be very slow about halfway through the day Tuesday.

At the Elberta Center precinct, poll manager Earl Lockhart said at about noon 75 people had voted out of the 2,800 voters in the precinct. He expected about 150 would have voted by the of the day, but that’s not counting the early voters.

Lockhart said he believes the turnout was low because many people didn’t understand the importance of the special purpose local option sales tax referendum.

Things were about the same at the Houston County Courthouse Annex precinct. Poll manager Matthew Gutierrez said shortly after noon that 100 people had voted out of the 1,600 voters in the precinct. Those figures aren’t counting those who voted early.

Marie Murphy said after she finished voting at the annex that election day turnout may be low because so many people are voting early now.

“Everybody I know voted early,” she said.

She voted for Rick Santorum in the GOP primary, she said, because she likes his morals. She voted against the sales tax referendum.

“I just feel like our taxes are high enough,” she said. “They should make do with what you’ve got.”

Weeks of GOP presidential campaigning led to a trickle of early voters in Bibb County.

"It's slow," said Bibb Elections Supervisor Elaine Carr. "No phones are ringing, and when our phones aren't ringing it means there are not many voters at the polls."

Carr had hoped for a 40 percent turnout, but it will likely be more like 25 percent.

"We're still a Democrat county," Carr said. "Maybe it will pick up after work."

She also speculated that the morning chill could be keeping elderly voters away until temperatures warm up. The polls will be open until 7 p.m.

Markus Asbell was among the early voters at Hutchings Career Academy before 9 a.m. He was one of only two dozen voters in the first two hours of voting there.

Asbell said he voted for Newt Gringrich.

"He's got a lot of name recognition," Asbell said. "I want someone who knows the ropes and can shake it up and makes things better. I think he's got the background for it. He won't mind stepping on toes to get things done."

Beverly Nable, a Houston County elections assistant, said the day got off to a good start.

"No problems have been reported and everything is up and running," Nable said.

Back in Bibb County, an elections technician returned to the office from a Godfrey precinct that only had one voter the first hour, Carr said.

A little under 2,000 people cast ballots in advanced voting and 300 absentee ballots will be counted Tuesday night, Carr said.

"Turnout is better than eight years ago, but didn't touch four years ago when we had two races," she said.

Like Houston County voters, residents of Peach, Jones and Monroe counties are also deciding on more than the presidential nomination question.

Voters in Peach County face referendums asking whether they are willing to continue paying special purpose local option sales taxes to be used for major capital improvements.

Both Peach's and Houston’s proposals are renewals. If voters approve the measures, the sales tax in the respective counties would remain at 7 percent.

In Monroe County, voters will be asked whether they want to continue the one-penny special purpose local option sales tax that has been in place there ever since the state Legislature allowed counties to create a SPLOST.

Meanwhile, in Jones County, voters who live in the River North community will have the choice to continue to pay a portion of their property taxes to maintain and improve water and sewer lines.

Across Georgia, much was on the line for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is looking to regain momentum in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

Gingrich represented Georgia for 20 years and has been leading in state polls over Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul. Georgia has the most delegates up for grabs on Super Tuesday.

Gingrich has focused extensively on Georgia, spending much of last week here rather than campaigning in the other Super Tuesday states. Rivals Romney and Santorum have also dedicated time and resources in the state.

Other states holding Super Tuesday contests are Alaska, Idaho, Ohio, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia.

Return to macon.com for more updates on the elections.

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