After early voting set a record for a midterm and governor's election statewide and locally, Bulloch County's voter turnout is already 30.5 percent as Election Day dawns.
However, lines to vote are still expected Tuesday, especially in larger precincts.
In 16 days of advance voting, including 15 weekdays and one Saturday, 11,199 Bulloch County residents voted in person, county Election Supervisor Patricia Lanier Jones reported. Meanwhile, of 1,341 absentee ballots mailed by her staff, 914 had been returned through Friday. So, not including the unreturned absentee ballots, 12,133 of Bulloch County's 39,825 active voters have already voted.
Bulloch will have 16 precinct voting places open Tuesday from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. In contrast to early voting when there were central voting sites for the whole county, Election Day voters are expected to cast ballots in their assigned precinct. Jones recommends that they first visit the state website, www.mvp.sos.ga.gov, which can identify a voter's precinct location and provide a sample ballot.
"We encourage you to look over the sample ballot (there was also one in Sunday's paper) to be prepared," she said in an email. "Bring your identification. There could be lines at your precinct, so please be prepared to wait."
The hottest race is probably the one at the top of the ballot, the battle for the governor's office between former state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, the Democrat, and Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, the Republican. It may be finished with Tuesday night's vote count. But a 50 percent-plus win is required, and with Libertarian candidate Ted Metz also on the ballot, Abrams and Kemp could end up in a Dec. 4 runoff.
Here in the 12th Congressional District, the race between Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Rick Allen and Democratic challenger the Rev. Francys Johnson is more certain to be decided Tuesday.
With no third-party candidate for lieutenant governor, the race between Republican nominee Geoff Duncan and Democratic nominee Sarah Riggs Amico should also be over when the votes are counted.
There are eight other statewide contests on the ballot, from Republican Brad Raffensberger, Democrat John Barrow and Libertarian Smythe Duval's race for secretary of state to two Public Service Commission races.
All Bulloch County voters also have choices for Board of Commissioners.
In District 1, Democratic incumbent Commissioner Anthony D. Simmons faces Republican challenger Scott Brannen for Seat 1-B.
In District 2, voters will select for two seats. Republican incumbent Walter C. Gibson faces Democratic challenger Adrienne Dobbs for Seat 2-B, while for Seat 2-D, Democratic candidate Carlos Brown and Republican candidate Timmy Rushing Sr. square off after incumbent Commissioner Robert Rushing did not seek re-election.
Voters countywide will say "yes" or "no" to a six-year continuation of the existing 1 percent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. The SPLOST is projected to net about $62 million, which the Bulloch County government and the cities of Statesboro, Brooklet, Portal and Register will share on the basis of population.
Expansion of the county jail, installation of a new radio system for public safety agencies and extension of trash disposal and recycling capacity are proposed as shared projects. The cities have their own projects, ranging from fire truck and police car purchases to water system work and park improvements.
The ballot also contains five proposed state constitutional amendments and two statewide referendums.
Boro 'brunch' vote
Meanwhile, the city of Statesboro is concluding a referendum of city-resident voters, on a separate ballot.
City Council called the referendum under the so-called Brunch Bill approved this year by the state Legislature. A "yes" vote would let Statesboro restaurants serve alcoholic beverages beginning at 11 a.m. on Sundays instead of the current Sunday start time of 12:30 p.m.
The city's voting precinct boundaries are different from the county's, so some Statesboro residents will need to vote in two different places Tuesday to participate in the brunch referendum and the general election.
Historic early voting
The number of early and absentee voters in Bulloch County was higher in fall 2016, when 12,577 local people cast advanced ballots in person and 1,074 returned absentee ballots, for a total of 13,651. If all of this year's mailed absentee ballots were returned before 7 p.m. Tuesday, the total would reach 12,540, still short of the overall record.
But 2016 was when President Donald Trump was elected, and presidential elections historically produce much higher turnout than state and congressional midterm elections. Total turnout in the 2016 general election topped 73.5 percent, compared to a little less than 68 percent in the 2012 presidential election but 43 percent and 44 percent in the 2014 and 2010 midterm elections.
In the 2010 general election when Gov. Nathan Deal was first elected, only 4,204 Bulloch County residents voted early or absentee. In 2014 when he was re-elected, the local early and absentee voter count was 4,479. But in 2012 when then-President Barack Obama was re-elected, 12,049 Bulloch residents voted early or absentee.
So, in the current election, early and absentee voting has more than doubled that in the past two gubernatorial and midterm congressional elections and edged past the count in the 2012 presidential election. But the 2016 presidential election retains the overall record for early voting in Bulloch County.
"I think people are just more engaged this year," said Jessica Orvis, chair of the Democratic Party of Bulloch County. "They're more excited about the candidates, and they're more aware of how important it is to vote. I think that's what's going on. Younger people are more interested than they have been. It's very exciting."
Kemp, in his role as secretary of state, announced Monday that a new statewide record was set for early voting in a midterm election. Of course, his remaining secretary of state, with official oversight of elections through his office's Elections Division, has itself been controversial in the race for governor.
Through Friday, Georgians cast 2,071,830 ballots, including 1,886,905 in-person and 184,925 by mail. The previous record in a midterm was 945,507 early and absentee ballots cast, including 838,484 in-person and 107,023 by mail, in the November 2014 general election, Kemp's staff announced in the release headlined, "Georgia shatters early voting record for midterm election."
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.