When early voting closed with the last person who was in line at 5 p.m. Friday, 42.2% of Bulloch County residents eligible to vote in Tuesday’s election had already done so.
But local turnout in the last presidential election, in November 2016, was very high, 73.5%. To match that percentage in the current election, about 15,050 more of the county’s 48,090 registered voters would have to participate, either by completing and returning absentee ballots they have already received or voting at their assigned precincts Tuesday. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at all 16 Bulloch County precincts, four of which have polling places in different buildings than in past years.
The total of 20,277 ballots cast as of 5 p.m. Friday included those of 14,407 in-person voters who participated during the 16 days of early voting opportunity, plus 5,734 valid absentee ballots returned, reported Bulloch County Deputy Registrar Shontay Jones.
Has the turnout in early and absentee voting been enough to reduce lines at the precincts Tuesday, with COVID-19 social distancing measures in place?
“I’m hoping so,” Jones said. “I’m very optimistic about it because of the amount of people that we have voted. … Our larger precincts have done really well.”
For example, the Fair Precinct had 2,431 in-person early voters and, so far, 902 absentee voters, so that’s at least 3,333 who won’t be in line there on Friday. Another of the county’s most populous precincts, the so-called Statesboro precinct, had 2,053 in-person early voters and 932 absentee voters, so that’s 2,985 who won’t need to line up Tuesday at the cafeteria of the William James Educational Complex on Williams Road.
The number of absentee voters could still increase.
In all, 8,534 paper absentee ballots were issued to Bulloch residents, but 1,109 were cancelled when their recipients chose to vote early in-person instead. That left 7,403 valid mailed-out ballots, of which 5,834 were returned so far. Additionally, 89 electronic military and overseas absentee ballots had been issued, of which 36 have been returned, Jones reported.
That leaves 1,622 absentee ballots of both types still out.
No new absentee ballots can be issued at this point. However, completed absentee ballots will be accepted if they arrive at the Bulloch County election headquarters by 7 p.m. Tuesday, but not afterward except in the case of military and overseas absentees, whose ballots must be counted if they arrive by next Friday.
At this point, voters should not attempt to return paper absentee ballots by mail. But they can be returned to the elections office in the County Annex on North Main Street or placed in either its indoor lobby drop box or the 24-hour outdoor drop box in the annex parking lot before the deadline.
However, Jones points out that Bulloch County’s absentee ballot drop boxes are only for Bulloch County voters. As many as 40 or 50 absentee ballots from other counties have been placed in these drop boxes. The Bulloch elections staff tries to mail the misplaced ballots to the election offices in the correct counties, but the time for that has now run short.
Voters heading to the polls Tuesday should be aware that four precincts have new or temporarily relocated polling places. But one, the Fair Precinct, is back in its traditional location, the club headquarters at the Kiwanis Fairgrounds, 16942 Georgia Highway 67, Statesboro. The previous move to the Agricultural Complex was only temporary, when the Kiwanis air-conditioning needed fixing.
But the Leefield Precinct is temporarily relocated to Leefield Baptist Church, 5294 Brooklet-Leefield Road. The Nevils Precinct has been temporarily relocated across the street from its usual location to the gym at Nevils Elementary School, 8438 Nevils-Groveland Road. The Register Precinct also remains relocated to Register Baptist Church, 10 Church St., Register.
But now, the Portal Precinct’s move to the Aaron Worship Center Social Hall, 351 N. Grady St., Portal, is considered permanent.
In most cases the temporary moves reflect the requirements of COVID-19 pandemic social distancing. But Jones pointed out that the new voting equipment, which involves printers and a scanner as well as touchscreen machines, already required more room.
Cancelling a ballot
Anyone who received a paper absentee ballot but has not yet voted and wants to vote in person instead should bring the ballot, if they still have it, to their precinct voting place Tuesday, Jones said. That way the paper ballot can be cancelled before the voter uses the voting machine.
If a voter does not return the paper ballot, it still can be cancelled, but the voter will need to fill out an affidavit. If you already returned your ballot, it’s too late to change.
Tuesday voters will need their Georgia driver’s license or other valid, government-issued photo ID, just as in-person early voters did.
Campaigning by anyone is prohibited at any polling place and within 150 feet of the outer edge of its building. Voters sometimes don’t understand what “campaigning” encompasses under the law, as local election officials saw again during the early voting.
“What we’ve experienced here is that people don’t realize that campaigning is not just holding up a sign, but it’s clothing, it’s anything,” Jones said. “We’ve had several people that we’ve had to either change their shirt or turn it inside out. … People have had on hats. Campaigning is anything that has the person that’s on the ballot’s name on it.”
Also, only voters registered in Bulloch County can vote it Bulloch County. University students sometimes mistakenly believe that their registration from anywhere in Georgia will be good enough, Jones observed. The deadline to change your registration address for this election passed about a month ago.
Voters can find their precinct, a specific sample ballot or other voting information by logging in at the My Voter webpage maintained by the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, www.mvp.sos.ga.gov.