Sixteen days of early voting opportunity begin Tuesday in city elections across Georgia and will include two Saturdays, as required under the state’s voting law changes enacted earlier this year as Senate Bill 202.
Locally, the elections include mayoral races in Statesboro and Register; referendums, also in both Statesboro and Register, on whether to allow liquor stores in their city limits; two separate referendum questions in Brooklet on whether to allow stores to sell alcoholic beverages on Sunday or allow restaurants to serve liquor-based drinks; and races for council seats in all four towns, including Portal.
The Bulloch County Board of Elections and Registration, 113 N. Main St.; Suite 201, Statesboro, handles elections for the cities of Statesboro, Portal and Register under contract. So Portal and Register resident registered voters also have to come to Statesboro, to the elections office area at the county’s North Main Annex, to vote early in-person their municipal elections.
“We are conducting the municipal elections for the city of Statesboro, the town of Register and the town of Portal, and our office will be the only location for a voter to cast a ballot early in any of those,” confirmed Bulloch County Election Supervisor Shontay Jones.
But Brooklet handles its own elections and will be hosting early voting, or in Brooklet’s case “in-person absentee voting” at Brooklet City Hall, 104 Church St., Brooklet, on the same days that the county elections office holds early voting for the other three municipalities.
One difference is, the county election office will be using the new touchscreen, printer and scanner machines that debuted in last year’s statewide elections. Brooklet will be using absentee paper ballots for the in-person absentee voting at its City Hall, said City Clerk Lori Phillips.
Now 2 Saturdays
At both locations and for all four cities’ elections, the in-person, advanced voting days are Tuesday through Friday, Oct. 12-15, plus Saturday, Oct. 16; Monday through Friday, Oct. 18-22, plus Saturday, Oct. 23; and finally, Monday through Friday, Oct. 25-29.
The Monday through Friday voting hours are also all the same, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
But the voting hours for the two Saturdays will be a little different. The county elections office will be open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16 and again Saturday, Oct. 23, for Statesboro, Portal and Register voters. Meanwhile, Brooklet City Hall will open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. on both of those Saturdays for in-person absentee voting by registered voters who are Brooklet residents.
Previously, only one day of Saturday voting was provided for elections in Bulloch County or its cities. But Senate Bill 202 mandates two voting Saturdays statewide, adding a second Saturday here.
Mailed ballot limit
While the new law expands Saturday voting, it has shortened the timeline for voters to apply for absentee ballots and for election officials to mail these out.
Previously, Georgia voters could apply to be sent an absentee ballot as much as 180 days before an election. The new law reduced that lead time to 78 days for this election, Jones noted.
In previous election cycles, the mailing out of absentee ballots office could continue through the Friday before the Tuesday traditional Election Day. That Friday remains the last day for in-person early voting, but Senate Bill 202 moved the deadline for mailing out ballots to a week earlier.
“So the last day that our office can mail out an absentee ballot for an eligible voter, if their application has been received, is going to be October 22,” Jones said. “So voters won’t have that last week that they previously would have had to continue to submit those requests.”
Voters whose absentee ballot request is received after that date will be sent a notice that the request is denied, and they can still vote early in person until Oct. 22 or at their assigned precinct Nov. 2, she said.
All of this information, at this point, is for voters who are registered to vote at addresses within one of the cities with a municipal election Nov. 2. The statewide deadline to register to vote or update registration information for this election was Monday, Oct. 4.
But absentee ballots are still available. In fact, Monday, Oct. 11, is the earliest that any can be mailed to voters, even on requests already received. The elections office had received about 25 absentee ballot requests from Statesboro voters and none from the other towns, Jones said Tuesday.
The Oct. 22 deadline previously mentioned is for officials mailing out absentee ballots. If a voter receives an absentee ballot, completes it and returns it to the election headquarters before the close of polls on Nov. 2, it must still be counted.
An application for an absentee ballot and other information can be found on the elections office website: https://bullochcounty.net/elections/2021-elections. Some portions can be filled in online, but the completed form has to be printed and signed and mailed, or presented in person or an image of it emailed, to the local elections office, which also has copies of the form.
ID for absentees
Because of Senate Bill 202, the absentee ballot application is now more detailed. It includes spaces for the digits of a voter’s Georgia driver’s license or state identification card, and – for voters who do not have one of those – a space to affix a copy of another form of accepted ID.
In another change wrought by Senate Bill 202, elections offices are prohibited from placing drop boxes outdoors for receipt of absentee ballots. Absentee ballot drop boxes will be available inside the elections office building only during office hours, Jones said. She noted that the tax commissioner recently placed a drop box outside for use by taxpayers, and Jones doesn’t want voters to be confused.
“Voters should be aware that if they drop their ballots in any other drop box, that we do not have access to, their ballot may not be counted if not received by the deadline,” Jones said.
Voters throughout Statesboro will decide a mayoral race between challenger Ernest Larry Lawton and incumbent Jonathan McCollar, as well as the referendum on whether to allow “package sale of distilled spirts,” or in other words liquor stores, in the city limits.
Only voters in Statesboro City Council District 4 will choose between challenger Kristine Yager-Rushton and incumbent council member John Conner Riggs. Incumbent council member Phil Boyum appears unopposed on the District 1 ballot.
Register, Portal and Brooklet
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 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.
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, since incumbent William Griffith is 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 James Holloway withdrew after qualifying and incumbent Jim Stanoff did not seek re-election.