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Early voting off to fast start in Statesboro
102907 EARLY VOTING 1Web
On the first day of early voting Monday, Georgia Southern student Betsy Poe, 20, is walked through the process of voting on a paper ballot by poll officer Lyn Dedge, far right, at Statesboro City Hall after Poe found out her registration has been contested. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff
On the first day of advance voting in one of the most contentious city council elections in recent Statesboro history, 180 people turned out Monday to cast their ballots at City Hall.
    City Elections Supervisor Judy McCorkle said it was the most people to come out in a single day for early voting since the city began holding advance voting four years ago. She said that despite some bumps, everything ran rather smoothly.
    "All in all, a good first day," McCorkle said.
    Early voting continues through Friday, with polls open only at City Hall 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. Election Day is next Tuesday – Nov. 6 – and polls will be open in two locations from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. that day.
    The election has garnered tremendous interest from Georgia Southern University students. Between Sept. 1 and Oct. 9, 2,430 people registered to vote in the three council districts with contested races. Hundreds more registered in the two districts with no elections. More than 85 percent of the new voters are in the 18 to 24-year-old age group.
    District 2, where incumbent council member Gary Lewis faces Nathan Queen, has added 755 voters; District 3, where incumbent Will Britt faces Harry Propes, has added 1,086 voters; District 5, where incumbent John Morris faces Travis Chance, has added 589 new voters.
    People turned out Monday to vote for a variety of reasons. For example one couple, from District 5, didn't reveal who they voted for but said why they came out.
    "I didn't really know who was running and [the candidate] came calling. He was canvassing the neighborhood – you could see who he was," the woman said. "Making that personal contact made us want to take the time to go vote – and it's cold enough to be home."
    Other folks came out because they felt their right to vote was challenged. Corey Wallace, 20, is a Georgia Southern student from Pennsylvania. He works at Loco's Restaurant and said he lives in Statesboro's District 2 year round. His registration was challenged last week by a group that calls itself the Statesboro Citizens for Good Government.
    "I've talked to (Loco's owner) Jim Lanier a lot and one of the biggest things is Sunday sales," said Wallace. "I understand that we don’t have to sell alcohol at a store on Sunday but the profitability [of Sunday sales] goes into my paycheck which I in turn go and spend at the mall."
    "The city has a lot to offer the university and the university has a lot to offer the city. I came out here because it's about time we started working together instead of against each other." said Wallace.
    The citizens group filed petitions last week with the Bulloch County Registrar's office challenging the residency of 909 new registrations, primarily targeting first-time voters under 21 at Georgia Southern. Monday, 39 voters on the group’s list of challenged residents cast provisional ballots.
    Anyone on the challenged list who comes to vote this week or on Election Day will cast a provisional ballot. Each ballot will be counted or discarded pending the outcome of a hearing determining the validity of the citizens group’s challenge. A hearing will be scheduled in each of the 909 challenges at a later date.
    A number of people showed up for early voting without proper identification and unsure about the city districts up for election. In the morning, a group of four people came in thinking they could use their voter registration cards as identification.
    Deputy Registrar Shontay Jones said that in order to cast a ballot, a voter must show one of six different identifications.
    "You have to have a picture ID in order to vote," she said.
    Those identifications are: a valid Georgia driver's license, any valid state or U.S. issued employee identification card with a photo of the elector, a valid U.S. passport, a valid voter identification card, a valid U.S. military identification card or a valid tribal identification card. A voter registration card is not sufficient identification to vote.
    Also, a fair number of individuals attempted to vote, only to be turned away because they were registered in either District 1 or 4, while other voters complained about being questioned about the address they put on the ballot.
    Poll workers explained a voter must fill out an absentee ballot with the address that matches the voter registration rolls at City Hall, obtained from the Georgia Secretary of State in Atlanta. One example, Jones said, was a person who had moved into District 5 but had never changed his address from his old apartment in District 4. As a result, the voter was turned away because there is no District 4 race.
    "We've had a few others," Jones said.
    Two Statesboro police officers were on hand at City Hall Monday. Primarily, they made sure individual vehicles and limousines – hired to ferry students to the polls – were not dropping off people in the handicap parking area. Also, they made sure no campaign material came within 150 feet of the polls – including t-shirts, signs or campaign slogans written on vehicles.
    State law says no campaigning or campaign material of any kind is allowed within 150 feet of the polling place. Before the polls opened, poll workers set up traffic cones at 150 feet to mark the closest spot on East Main anyone could get and still campaign.
    Attesting to the contentiousness of the election, an unidentified representative from the College Student Association was seen using a tape measure to measure the distance from the poll of a convertible used by District 3 candidate Harry "Bubba" Propes as a campaign sign. After the measurement, they complained to poll workers that his car was 138 feet from the polls, but workers assured them his car was located outside the150-foot cone marker.
    Phil Boyum may be reached at 489-9454.
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