Fewer than 10 percent of Bibb voters cast ballots early

pramati@macon.comSeptember 13, 2013 

With 90 incorrect ballots cast in early voting for Tuesday’s special election for the new Macon-Bibb County consolidated government, Friday ended with officials hoping they’ve ironed out all of the problems.

Elections officials revealed Friday that 90 votes across all nine districts will be counted even though voters from the wrong district cast them.

Meanwhile, the turnout for early voting was lower than expected.

Despite urging from public officials, just 8,210 people took advantage of early voting, including 621 on Friday.

An average of about 500 people per day cast ballots at the Board of Elections office on Pio Nono since early voting began Aug. 26, said Elections Supervisor Jeanetta Watson. With about 93,000 registered voters, it means less than 10 percent of them took part in the early voting process.

Earlier in the week, Bibb County Commissioner Lonzy Edwards and Macon City Councilmen Henry Gibson and Lonnie Miley -- none of whom is running for a seat in the new government -- held a news conference urging people to vote. State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, sent an email blast also asking for voters to turn out.

By comparison, 4,941 city voters voted early during the 2011 mayoral primary. However, voters who lived in unincorporated Bibb County weren’t eligible to vote in that race.

About 20,000 early voters showed up for the 2012 general election, highlighted by the presidential race.

Part of the low turnout this year might be attributed to anticipated long lines at the polls. On Friday, some voters waited as long as two hours to cast their ballots.

Robert and Bertha Spencer, residents of District 2, said it took a half-hour in line for them to get inside the building. It took roughly 45 minutes to get through the winding queue once inside.

“I expected to wait longer, but of course, I’m not inside yet,” Bertha Spencer said as she waited. “With it being the last day and all (of early voting), I expected it.”

The early voting took longer than usual because elections officials were double-checking people’s residences against a large map in the back of the office to make certain voters were casting ballots in the correct district. Officials first became aware of problems in the process when 17 District 3 voters cast the wrong ballots in the District 2 race because their information was incorrect in the county’s new computer system.

Bibb is the first Georgia county to use the state’s new election software for an election.

With temperatures in the low 90s earlier this week, some voters decided they didn’t want to spend a lot of time waiting in line. Juanita Booker, who lives in District 3, waited about five minutes before deciding she would take her chances and try for a shorter wait another day.

“I’ll have to vote on Tuesday,” she said. “My daughter is waiting on me. I don’t know how fast the line is going to move. ... I know Tuesday there’s going to be long lines.”

William Brockman, a District 6 resident, said it took a little over two hours to cast his vote. However, he said he thinks the lines will be worse Tuesday. He said he appreciated that officials were taking the extra time to make sure voters were in the correct districts.

“I think it’s running smooth,” he said. “They’re checking everything on a map, so it takes a little longer.”

Watson said Friday’s lines weren’t that unusual for the final day of early voting.

“I kind of expected more people, but (the lines) have been normal, especially for the last day,” she said.

Watson said her office mailed more than 1,300 absentee ballots, about half of which have been filled out and returned. Voters have until 7 p.m. Tuesday to get their absentee ballots in to be counted, she said.

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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