If there is any worry that Bibb County voters might not show up for Tuesday’s Macon-Bibb County runoff election, they should be partly assuaged by the fact that more people turned out for six days of early voting this month than they did during 16 days of early voting leading up to the Sept. 17 election.
The Bibb County Board of Elections reported Monday that 9,937 advance and absentee voters cast ballots last week, up from the 9,760 early votes from the Sept. 17 election. Absentee ballots will be accepted until 7 p.m. Tuesday.
While the numbers don’t indicate which candidates are benefiting from the bump, they could help both mayoral candidates.
Macon Mayor Robert Reichert said his biggest worry is voter overconfidence and apathy of his supporters who might think his 7,000-vote advantage last month over his opponent, former Mayor C. Jack Ellis, would make Reichert a lock to win.
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Reichert said he feels confident his supporters know the importance of their votes.
“We’re excited,” he said. “This is the culmination of a year’s worth of work. I hope everybody turns out to vote so the voice of the community can be heard. I feel energized because I’ve talked to so many people, and they know how important it is to go vote. It’s one thing to be for me, and another to vote for me. I appreciate the former, but I need the latter.”
Ellis said he thinks he can pick up more votes to close the gap by getting more people to the polls and picking up support among the voters’ whose candidates lost Sept. 17, such as Bibb County Chairman Sam Hart, who finished third in the mayor’s race.
“I’m not tired,” Ellis said. “I’m excited at the possibilities and for the future of the city and for our victory (Tuesday) night. ... (The higher voter turnout is) a good sign. We’ve worked hard to get people out to the polls.”
Reichert has maintained a huge financial advantage over Ellis, according to the candidates’ disclosure forms turned in to the state Friday. Reichert raised $425,937 and spent $393,471 to get his message out to voters. By contrast, Ellis raised $84,125 and spent $76,712.
The other runoff races Tuesday consist of Macon Councilmen Henry Ficklin and Larry Schlesinger for the District 2 Commission seat; Mallory Jones III and Councilwoman Beverly Olson for the District 4 seat; Councilman Ed DeFore and Adah Roberts for the District 6 seat; and Councilmen Charles Jones and Virgil Watkins for the District 8 seat.
Turnout could be key
Chris Grant, a political science professor at Mercer University, said he thinks a high percentage of the 36,065 voters from Sept. 17 will return to the polls. When Reichert defeated Ellis in the 2011 mayoral runoff by about 500 votes, more voters showed up for the runoff than they did for the Democratic primary that year.
“The general trend is that (fewer) people vote in a runoff, but this mayoral race (is distinctive because) people are motivated for or against a candidate,” Grant said.
Grant added that Ellis especially has been something of a polarizing figure in Macon politics: He inspires a lot of loyalty among his supporters but also a lot of motivation for people who dislike him to go to the polls. Grant said Ellis will need a lot of things to break his way if he has any chance of overcoming the 7,000-vote difference from last month’s election.
“He needs people to change their minds or a sizable number who didn’t show up the first time (to vote),” Grant said. “He’s talked a lot about low voter turnout.”
While Grant said that overconfidence and apathy “is a legitimate concern for the Reichert camp,” he thinks voters are unusually motivated for or against the candidates and will show up at the polls.
Grant said most voters probably already have made up their minds in the mayor’s race, with few votes likely to swing to the other candidate. But he thinks the commission seats might be more up for grabs.
The most interesting race, he said, is likely in District 2. Grant said he lives in the district and noted he has received plenty of fliers and robocalls from Schlesinger over the past week or so, but he has heard nothing from the Ficklin campaign.
“Schlesinger has certainly out-organized Ficklin,” he said. “Schlesinger has left no stone unturned (for votes).”
In District 4, Grant said Mallory Jones had a better organized campaign than Olson, who would need to improve significantly to overcome the 800-vote deficit she faced in the Sept. 17 race.
However, third-place finisher Theron Ussery, who tallied 1,028 votes in September, endorsed Olson.
Grant said DeFore, who has served 42 years on the City Council, may have too much name recognition for Roberts to overcome. He held a 2-to-1 vote advantage in the Sept. 17 race.
The District 8 race is the toughest to predict, Grant said. Watkins held a narrow 75-vote advantage over Charles Jones, but third-place finisher Regina Davis, who received 597 votes, endorsed Jones. Grant noted that Jones has been campaigning intensely in the month between the special election and runoff.
While just 44 percent of the county’s 81,348 registered voters turned out for the special election, Grant said that’s a better turnout than in many other counties in Georgia.
“I actually thought the turnout was pretty good,” he said.
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report.