Seventeen days of early voting in city elections across Georgia ended at 5 p.m. Friday, with just under 5.8% of registered voters taking advantage of the opportunity in Statesboro, which has a mayoral race and a citywide referendum on liquor stores and, in one district, a City Council race.
Early voting participation was even lighter in the other three municipalities in Bulloch County.
But now, the polls will open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Tuesday for Election Day voting at traditional precincts within Brooklet, Portal, Register and Statesboro. All are elections for city-resident voters only.
Register also has a mayoral race, plus a liquor store referendum identical to Statesboro's. Brooklet has two different alcoholic beverage questions, one on whether to permit restaurants to serve distilled liquor-based drinks and the other on whether to let stores sell beer and wine on Sundays between 12:30 and 11:30 p.m. Portal has only council races.
Since the Bulloch County Board of Elections and Registration handles city elections for Portal, Register and Statesboro under contract, in-person early voting for all three of those towns was conducted at the county's North Main Annex in Statesboro. But now that's over, and everyone who votes Tuesday has to vote in their own town. Even Statesboro residents will vote at two assigned precinct voting places entirely different from the early voting location.
"Today at 5 o'clock wrapped it up for us for in-person voting, and so Tuesday will be the next day that a voter will have the opportunity to cast a ballot," Bulloch County Election Supervisor Shontay Jones said Friday.
Tuesday voting places
Registered voters from Statesboro's City Council Districts 1 and 2 will vote Tuesday at the William James Educational Complex, headquarters of the Bulloch County Board of Education, at 150 Williams Road. This is known as City Precinct 1.
Voters who live in Statesboro's City Council Districts 3, 4 and 5 will vote Tuesday at Pittman Park United Methodist Church, 1102 Fair Road, identified as City Precinct 2.
Brooklet's only voting place Tuesday will be the Brooklet Recreation Building, 416 Cromley Road Extension North.
Portal's voting place Tuesday is the Aaron Worship Center, 351 North Grady St., Portal.
Register's polling place will be Register Baptist Church, 10 Church St., Register.
Bring your driver's license, state-issued voter ID or other accepted form of official identification card, Jones reminds voters.
This is not exactly a reminder, but she notes that one of the changes in Georgia's voting laws this year makes it more important that voters report to the correct polling place. Senate Bill 202 prohibits election officials from accepting provisional ballots from voters who show up at the wrong precinct – but in the correct city or county – between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Election Day.
In the current local elections, that could only be an issue for Statesboro voters who do not know whether to report to Precinct 1, at the William James Complex, or Precinct 2, at the Pittman Park Church. Voters can check their city voting precinct online through the state My Voter page, www.mvp.sos.ga.gov.
Voters who show up at an incorrect, but in-city precinct Tuesday after 5 p.m. but before the polls close at 7 p.m. can be allowed to vote provisional ballots, but will have to sign an affidavit about why they cannot get to the correct precinct.
Jones said she is convinced that a federal law requiring that provisional ballots be allowed all day in voting for federal offices will override this state restriction on "voting out of precinct" next year when congressional races are on the ballot. But that is not an issue for city elections.
Also under Senate Bill 202, the deadline for absentee ballots to be mailed to voters was one week earlier, Oct. 22. Meanwhile, drop boxes could only be located indoors, had to be removed with the close of in-person early voting, at 5 p.m. Friday, and are prohibited from use Monday or Tuesday.
Completed absentee ballots can be returned to staff members inside the county elections office during regular office hours Monday or Tuesday until the polls close at 7 p.m. But that won't be concern for many voters. Of 69 valid absentee ballots issued for Statesboro's city election, 53 had already been returned by the end of the day Friday, an elections assistant reported, so just 16 ballots remained out.
So far, 918 Statesboro voters have participated, including 865 who voted early in-person and the 53 who have returned absentee ballots, for a total of 5.77% of the city's 15,915 active and inactive voters. If looked at only in terms of the 14,022 active voters – those who voted in the last election cycle or have updated their registration – Statesboro's early voting turnout rises to 6.5%.
In Brooklet, 50 accepted in-person absentee ballots and one provisional ballot were submitted, reported City Clerk Lori Phillips. That's a turnout so far of 3.9% of Brooklet's total 1,302 registered voters, or 4.1% of its active registered voters.
Friday morning dawned with only 21 Brooklet residents having voted in the previous three weeks. No Brooklet voters at all turned out on Oct. 16, the first of two state-mandated voting Saturdays, and just seven voted the second and final Saturday, Oct. 23.
But Brooklet more than doubled its total of in-person absentee ballots cast on the final day, Friday, when 30 voters came to City Hall.
"It has been nonstop busy," Phillips said after the first 10 voters cast ballots Friday morning. "I was really surprised about how many people have come in today just to vote."
Friday was also the busiest day for early voting in Statesboro's election, with 113 voters using the machines at the county office, compared to 752 in the previous 16 days combined.
Just 39 Statesboro voters cast in-person electronic ballots on Saturday, Oct. 16, and just 48 Statesboro voters and two Portal voters on Saturday, Oct. 23.
In all 17 days of early voting, just three voters from Portal and three from Register participated. Portal has 438 registered voters in its city limits, while Register has 121.
Voters throughout Statesboro are deciding a mayoral race between challenger Ernest Larry Lawton and incumbent Jonathan McCollar, as well as the referendum on whether to allow liquor stores, in the city limits.
Only voters in Statesboro City Council District 4 are choosing between challenger Kristine Yager-Rushton and incumbent council member John Conner Riggs. Incumbent council member Phil Boyum appears unopposed on the District 1 ballot.
Brooklet, Portal and Register
In Brooklet, in addition to the two alcoholic beverage questions, there are city-wide choices between Becky Kelly and Hannah-Joy Dinello for Council Post 3, with incumbent William Griffith not running, and between challenger James Harrison and incumbent Gregory Schlierf for Council Post 4. Johnathan D. Graham is unopposed for Council Post 5, since incumbent Jim Stanoff did not seek re-election.
In Register, Donnie Roberts is challenging incumbent Barbara Rushing for the office of mayor, and Brittany Brannen is challenging Richard Canady for Register Council Post 1. Edmund Brannen is unopposed for Post 2.
In Portal, where all council members are also chosen at-large, voters will choose between challenger Tom Coleman and incumbent Jerry Lanigan for Post 3 and between challenger Roger D. Davis Jr. and incumbent Clay Williams for Post 4. Incumbent council member Sissy Carter is unopposed for Post 1.