More than 30 percent of Bulloch County voters chose to cast their ballots early, but many chose to wait until Election Day — today — to vote.
Bulloch County Elections Superintendent Pat Lanier Jones thinks voter turnout could surpass that of the last presidential election, which saw a higher turnout than most previous elections.
The early voting period was reduced from 45 days in 2008 to just 16 days this year. Jones predicts a voter turnout of between 65 percent and 75 percent today. Early voting began Oct. 15 and closed Friday.
Taking advantage of early voting, 10,911 Bulloch County residents voted early, and 1,334 paper absentee ballots were mailed. That represents 30.8 percent of Bulloch’s 35,658 registered voters.
In 2008, there were only 33,879 registered voters in the county. Of those voters, 1,248 cast paper absentee ballots and 8,514 used touchscreen voting, Jones said. That reflected a 71 percent turnout.
Even though a significant number of registered voters beat the crowds by voting early, Jones said lines may be long at some precincts today, especially at certain times.
Many will vote on their way into work, or on their way home. Lunchtime lines are usually longer than other times, so anytime in between might mean a shorter wait, she said.
Poll workers will do their best to assist voters, and they worked very hard during the three-week early voting period, Jones said.
“It was a long three weeks, but the poll workers will be ready today and we hope it will be a good day,” she said.
Besides the tight race between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, several other contests figure to draw voters to the polls.
The most hotly contested race locally is for the 12th Congressional District between state Rep. Lee Anderson, R-Grovetown, and incumbent U.S. Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga.
Republicans figure this is their best chance at taking the seat because the GOP-controlled Legislature redrew the 12th District's boundaries to cut out Democratic-leaning Savannah and add Republican-leaning rural areas. Television viewers in the Augusta and Savannah markets have been subjected to a barrage political advertisements for both candidates.
Also on the ballot today is a measure that, if approved, would amend the Georgia constitution to allow for a state-appointed Charter Schools Commission. That body would serve as an alternative route for charter schools to be approved. Currently, local school boards get the first call on approving or denying charter schools, and applicants who are rejected can appeal to the State Board of Education.
State Rep. Jan Tankersley, R-Brooklet, faces a Democratic challenger, Georgia Southern University senior Marc Silver, for the 160th House District.
And Bulloch County Superior Court Clerk Teresa Tucker faces Democratic challenger Liz Johnson.
Finally, voters in Statesboro's District 1 can choose between four candidates — Phil Boyum, Per Holtze, Maurice Jackson and Jonathan McCollar — to fill the City Council seat left vacant after Tommy Blitch resigned in August. If no one receives more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will be held between the top two vote-getters next month.
Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.
Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp urged voters to visit the polls today and reminded people they can locate their precinct by visiting his “My Voter” page at www.sos.ga.gov/mvp.
Anyone who encounters problems voting should “immediately contact the poll manager on-site or the Secretary of State’s Office,” he said. “Please remember that voters should also bring with them any valid state or federal government-issued photo ID.”
Valid forms of photo identification are a Georgia driver’s license, even if expired; valid employee photo ID from any branch, department, agency, or entity of the U.S. government, state of Georgia, or any county, municipality, board, authority or other entity in this state; or a valid U.S. passport, U.S. military photo ID or tribal photo ID.
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.