UPDATE: Steady voting continues in the midstate

Telegraph staffNovember 6, 2012 

Earl M. Lockhart has been the poll manager at The Elberta Center in Warner Robins for 19 years, but he has never seen a turnout like this.

By 7:15 a.m. Tuesday, 100 people had cast their votes. At 11:30 a.m., a line of people waited for their turn in the voting booths, and Lockhart constantly handed out voting stickers and answered questions. By then, more than 500 of the precinct’s 2,800 registered voters had dropped by the center.

“This is highly unusual for this to happen, especially so early in the day,” he said. “This is a tidal wave coming through.”

Chilly, rainy weather did not put a damper on voting in the midstate, as cars packed precincts and streams of voters exited schools, government buildings and community centers, sporting “I Voted” stickers.

In front of the precinct at Centerville City Hall -- where 560 people had voted by 10:30 a.m. -- all types of voters walked past. They were young and old. Some were in wheelchairs, some donned work uniforms, and some pushed baby strollers.

Janice Shierling, 76, of Centerville, voted for the first time Tuesday. Current issues, such as the economy and health care, convinced Shierling that this election was an important one, she said.

“I felt more concerned this time than I ever had,” she said, while not revealing her candidate of choice. “I just felt a real need to vote today.”

Bryson Bagley, 18, also voted for the first time.

“It felt good,” said Bagley, who voted at the Warner Robins Recreation Center. “I finally get to vote. My vote counts, and it matters.” About 525 people had voted at the recreation center by 11 a.m., which is a big number, a poll manager said.

About 100 people snaked across the side and front of Mabel White Baptist Church on Bass Road in Macon about 8 a.m.

Voters got clip boards shortly after entering the building so they could fill out their forms before they got to the checkpoint.

“Got to move a little faster,” said poll manager Janice Davis, as she briskly walked up the line in her Nike athletic shoes. “Got to roll, got to roll.”

Davis said the line has been long since before the polls opened.

Sherrell Brown, 33, said it took her about 35 minutes to cast her ballot. The wait was worth it, she thought, due to the sacrifices of those who came before her.

“It’s very important to me,” Brown said. “I feel people died for me to be able to vote, so I wanted to make sure they didn’t die in vain.”

By the time poll workers got into place about 6 a.m. Tuesday, Macon had picked up about 0.20 inches of rain overnight.

At the Pentecostal Temple precinct on Anthony Road, about three dozen voters lined up before 7 a.m., about half of them were standing outside the building.

Ramona Brown, 44, was first in line after arriving about 6 a.m.

“I’m tired of all these ads, that’s why I really want to get it over with,” Brown said.

Jeanette Dudley got in line at 6:30 a.m.

“I wanted my voice to be heard, so I caught the bus,” Dudley said as she waited to vote with her 76-year-old friend, Myra Hillsman.

“I’m fired up and ready to go,” Hillsman said.

Billy and Debra Boney voted at Pentecostal Temple on the way to work Tuesday morning.

“We’ve never had to wait before,” Debra Boney said.

“But it still only took 30 minutes,” Billy Boney said.

At Hutchings Career Center on Riverside Drive, about 60 people were lined up to vote when the doors opened at 7 a.m.

The first two hours were brisk, poll manager Katherine Harwell said. Still, the process took only 15 minutes or so for most people after that initial burst, from sign-up to vote.

Readers on Facebook reported no lines to wait times as long as 35 minutes this morning. Here’s a sampling from their precincts:

• Fifteen-minute wait at Porterfield Baptist Church in South Bibb.

• Thirty-five-minute wait at Ingleside United Methodist Church in Macon.

• Five-minute wait at Northside Christian Church in Macon.

• Fifteen-minute wait at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Bolingbroke.

• No wait at the Warner Robins Recreation Center.

• No wait at Feagin Mill Middle School in Warner Robins.

• Twenty-minute wait at Veterans High School in Kathleen.

As it neared lunchtime, the wait at Northminster Presbyterian Church in Macon was about 20 minutes.

“We had been moving like hot cakes until a computer locked up,” a poll worker told voters waiting in line. The computer was fixed shortly. Church officials poured water for thirsty voters.

At the Bibb County Board of Elections, supervisor Elaine Carr was praying the inclement weather would not deter voters.

Rain can keep people from stopping on their way to work, so precincts were trying to get as many people inside as possible.

Despite the weather, the day was off to a good start, Carr said.

“Everything’s quiet,” she said. “We don’t want to hear the phones ringing.”

Carr reminded voters to bring identification to the polls. If a voter does not have ID, provisional ballots can be cast.

“Those voters will have to come in here by close of business Friday,” Carr said.

They can bring identification at that time, or have an ID made at the Board of Elections, she said.

Already 20,612 people voted early over 21 days, compared to 29,000 in 45 days four years ago.

Friday’s last day of early voting tallied 1,525 votes, compared to 1.567 four years ago, Carr said.

The Board of Elections will have to consider opening a second location for early voting by the time Bibb County votes for its consolidated government leaders, she said.

The responsibility will fall to someone else, though, as Carr is working her final presidential election.

“This is it,” said Carr, who plans to retire at the end of the year.

Houston County had 31,038 people vote early. Election technician Andy Holland said he had been to several precincts Tuesday, and while there were some lines early in the day, voting has mostly been steady.

The worst of the weather might have already passed by the times polls opened.

Radar showed the bulk of the rain moving eastward out of Middle Georgia, but the state is not in the clear for Election Day weather.

“The chances (for rain) are still going to be there,” said Brian Lynn, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Peachtree City.

An upper level disturbance will linger in the northwest corner of Georgia through the day, he said.

Highs will only reach the mid-50s with winds gusting to 15 miles per hour, according to the NWS forecast.

A wintry mix of precipitation can not be ruled out tonight for the higher elevations of north Georgia, Lynn said.

Macon’s overnight low is expected to dip to 38 degrees by Wednesday morning.

Telegraph writer Wayne Crenshaw contributed to this report.

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