Inside what used to be a Shoe Carnival store in front of a shopping plaza where the old Westgate Mall once stood, voters lined up — some for up to an hour — to have their say in the 2016 presidential race.
Election Day was more than three weeks off, but Monday early voters seemed relieved that the end was nigh for what has perhaps been the most caustic campaign ever for commander in chief.
Those in line were among the first Americans to have their voting voices heard. And in the line there overlooking Pio Nono Avenue, you didn’t have to listen too hard to catch wind of the chasm between the two sides.
As the lunch-hour crowd stretched out the door at the Bibb County Board of Elections, more than 500 people had already cast ballots.
According to the election board, 1,431 people in Bibb voted Monday — 1,165 at the Pio Nono office and 266 at Terminal Station, the county’s other early voting site.
A woman waiting had on a red T-shirt with “Deplorable” on it in white letters. The word has become a rallying cry for Donald Trump supporters after his opponent, Hillary Clinton, referred to some of his backers as “deplorables.”
“Miss Hillary called us ‘deplorable,’ ” the woman in the red T-shirt said. “So I got my ‘deplorable’ on.”
Another woman behind her in line mentioned “sexist and racist” remarks that she suggested Trump has made.
“You got to weigh it out,” the woman in the red T-shirt told her. “And neither one of them, I think, are really qualified for nothing. But I remember Benghazi. I remember the things, seeing people die around (Clinton). Don’t want that in my country. But that’s my personal opinion.”
The woman behind her, referring to Trump, said, “I just can’t handle a foul-mouthed person.”
“I’ve got to get over that part,” the woman in the T-shirt said. “He’s the type person that tells it like it is.”
“Baby,” the other woman said, “you got to have some kind of filter in there. Honey, you a leader. You cannot let them children see that.”
The conversation ended cordially enough, with the T-shirted woman saying, “God bless y’all.”
A minute or so passed and the woman in the T-shirt, speaking to no one in particular, said, “We need to secede from the states and do as individuals. … Period.”
A few spots behind her in line, a man in a white “Obama” hat with a “Hillary 2016” button pinned to its side, said to himself, “Secede from the states. Boy, that’s gonna work.”
The Rev. John Napoli, of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Macon, had on a T-shirt himself, but it was nothing political. Its fabric, however, was a soft blue — it was a Papa Smurf shirt.
Napoli, who waited about 45 minutes to cast his ballot, said folks in line where he stood had “nice discussion, but nothing turbulent.”
Napoli, 43, a self-described lifelong Democrat, was glad to hear news that Georgia has, as he put it, “gone from a solid red to like a pink.”
He and his wife are moving to Indiana soon.
“We wanted to be able to vote here while we still lived here,” Napoli said.
The views on the screens
In a campaign season that has had more than its share of made-for-television, reality-show moments, it only made sense that at the county’s election headquarters there were glitches with some of the flat-screen TVs.
As some of day’s first voters stood in line, the wall-mounted televisions in the office’s waiting queue were tuned to CNN. A poll manager told The Telegraph there were some voters who were “not happy,” concerned that perhaps the news footage might unduly influence voters in a place where campaigning is forbidden.
It wasn’t clear why the TVs — in place for monitoring election results — were on in the first place. The remote controls apparently didn’t work properly, and a technician had to be brought in to turn them off.
Shortly after noon, though, at least one of the sets was on. A Telegraph photographer snapped a picture of an ad in which Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal could be seen encouraging voters to “vote yes” on the state’s controversial Opportunity School District question.
First time at new facility
This is the first election since the Board of Elections moved into its new Pio Nono office, across the street from the Krispy Kreme at Hightower Road.
Asked about Monday’s technical hiccups with the televisions, county election supervisor Jeanetta Watson said, “We made sure that they were turned off as soon as we heard that there were people that were dissatisfied with what was being viewed.”
She added that there were “no angry voters.”
“That’s a good thing,” Watson said.
There were also free Nu-Way hot dogs and drinks given away at a tent outside. The gesture was to thank voters and serve as something of an open-house welcome to the new voting digs.
The office, in what had been a shoe store when the 12,000-square-foot space first opened in 1995, has a wide lobby, beige decor and recessed lights. It looks like a cross between a government tag office and the lobby of a Marriott.
“Look how nice. … This is beautiful,” said NBC News reporter Chris Jansing, who was there for much of the day doing live segments on MSNBC.
With Georgia in play now for Clinton, according to polls, Macon made for a suitable backdrop nationally as the presidential race hits its home stretch.
“I was hoping for good barbecue,” Jansing said.
“People have been so nice and friendly, and I don’t think that they’re used to this kind of attention during an election. And I think a lot of people are surprised that Georgia is as close as it is.”