The presidential race was not the only magnet drawing Bulloch County residents to the polls Tuesday. Whether for the 12th Congressional District race, the charter schools amendment or all of the above, voters kept precinct houses steadily busy from first light.
Late Tuesday, the Bulloch County Elections Supervisor Pat Lanier Jones released unofficial numbers indicating that 24,162 ballots were cast, representing 67.7 percent of the county's registered voters.
At the Kiwanis Club Fairgrounds, voters started arriving about 6:15 a.m. – in a drizzle of rain – to wait for the polls to open at 7. Then the precinct’s 14 election workers and 18 voting machines accommodated 90 voters in the first 15 minutes, reported poll manager Ann Price. More typical of the morning’s flow, six of the machines were in use at 11 a.m.
It was around that time that registered nurse Shirley Ryce, 59, emerged from the building after voting for President Barack Obama.
“I think he needs to continue just like he’s going,” she said. “I mean, a lot of things were already not right when he got into office, but I think he’s done good to continue as he has.”
While acknowledging that the economy isn’t in great shape, Ryce said Obama has made progress and that fewer people are out of work.
She also voted Democratic in the congressional race, staying with incumbent U.S. Rep. John Barrow, although she said he could have done a better job than he has. She commented that advertising in the race between Barrow and Republican challenger Lee Anderson was especially negative.
“I think this is sort of like the worst race that I’ve seen lately,” she said. “It’s not about what’s in their heart. They’re just trying to make the other person look bad.”
Retired paper company computer clerk George Newton, 86, voted at the Brooklet Recreation Building.
“I want to see us get a new president. That’s the main thing,” he said.
He saw Republican nominee Mitt Romney as a better businessman and thinks the country needs to be managed more like a business, “and not go throw all your money down a hole,” Newton said.
But he said he didn’t vote in the congressional race between Barrow and Anderson because he didn’t care for either and thought there wasn’t enough difference between them.
“I left them out. I didn’t want to get the worse of the two deals,” Newton said.
After voting at William James Educational Complex, which houses the Statesboro precinct, gunsmith Allen Mathews, 24, reported choosing Anderson over Barrow, whom he said wasn’t keeping his promises and had changed his positions.
“I saw he’d flip-flopped on a couple of votes,” Mathews said. “Before he was for gun control and now he’s kind of against gun control. I kind of like representatives to pick a side and stick with it.”
Mathews, who had also voted for Romney, said that “Obamacare,” as the Affordable Care Act is often called, creates unnecessary new taxes, despite the president’s insistence that the program’s fees were not taxes.
Outside the Register precinct house, Malinda Wright, 62, as well her father, Calvin Smith, and brother Larry Smith, said they all voted for Barrow.
“I hope somebody does something right, that’s all,” Wright said.
The three declined to disclose their presidential choices.
Kristen Glisson, 38, the manager of a propane company and mother of three school-age children, had gone to the Register poll, but found that her registration required her to vote at the Emit precinct instead. She was going there next, to vote for Romney and Anderson.
“Just the economy, I think, is the biggest thing,” she said. “The last four years has just been a struggle for everybody that I know, so I just want to see a change in that.”
After voting in Statesboro, one local businessman said that proposed Georgia constitutional Amendment 1, empowering the state to create a Charter Schools Commission that would have the power to approve charter schools, had been one of his motivating issues. He reported voting for the amendment, but then asked that his name be withheld.
While Ryce and Newton cast opposite votes in the presidential race, they both voted against Amendment 1.
“I want to leave it just like it is. I don’t want no more charter schools,” Newton said. “I think the Board of Education for the county, the state of Georgia and all ought to run the schools and not have so many of these schools for separate people. If a family wants to put their kid in a private school, let them do it, but not a private school operated by the state.”
One county and one state legislative race also appeared on the ballot, and mainly these, rather than the federal offices, were represented by campaign volunteers holding signs Tuesday.
Along the edge of the parking lot at the Brooklet community center – more than the required 150 feet from the building – Krystal King and Andi Wilson waved signs for Liz Johnson, the Democrat challenging Republican incumbent Teresa Tucker for Bulloch County clerk of court. They had arrived at 7:30 a.m. and planned to stay until 4 p.m.
Nearby, Carl Rushing had parked with his bright yellow Jeep Cherokee, displaying two campaign signs on the SUV while holding another in his hand for his friend, state Rep. Jan Tankersley, the Republican incumbent in District 160. Rushing had arrived at 7 a.m. and planned to stay until the polls closed 12 hours later. At other precincts volunteers held signs for Tucker, and signs for Tankersley’s Democratic challenger, Marc Silver, appeared along driveways into some of the polling places.