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Shortened early voting period set daily, but not overall, records here
Now it’s Election Day for those who didn’t vote yet: precinct polls open Tuesday 7 a.m.-7 p.m.
Bulloch County Election Supervisor Shontay Jones, left, brings a wagon of election materials out for Portal precinct Assistant Poll Manager Linda Williams, middle, to drive to Portal in preparation for the Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022, runoff election while Ronn
Bulloch County Election Supervisor Shontay Jones, left, brings a wagon of election materials out for Portal precinct Assistant Poll Manager Linda Williams, middle, to drive to Portal in preparation for the Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022, runoff election while Ronny Newton, right, from the Tax Assessors’ Office arrives to help load the vehicle. - photo by AL HACKLE/Staff

Precinct polling places are open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Tuesday for registered voters who haven’t already voted in Georgia’s U.S. Senate runoff to do so, after in-person early voting last week set new single-day records in Bulloch County and statewide.

But with the in-person early voting opportunity compressed to five days – in contrast to 13 days in December 2020-January 2021, when there were two Senate races on the runoff ballot – early voting this time did not equal that previous runoff’s cumulative total. In Bulloch County, 8,489 voters cast in-person in the five days last week, reported county Election Supervisor Shontay Jones.

“I ran a report, and I think we were about 1,400 short of what we did in the three weeks for the January 5th 2021, election,” she said Monday.

Still, this year’s five-day total means that on average 1,698 voters filed through the Elections and Registration Office at the County Annex each day last week, Monday through Friday, between 8 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. The daily totals were 1,736 voters Monday, 1,687 Tuesday, 1,513 Wednesday, 1,608 Thursday, and Friday, the most ever here in a single day, 1,945 early voters.

Two years ago, before a change in Georgia law that shortened the state’s early voting period for runoff elections to federal office, 9,909 Bulloch County residents voted early in-person in the 13 days, which stretched from Dec. 14 to Dec. 31, including one Saturday but not Dec. 24 and 25, holidays which were on Thursday and Friday in 2020.

But the daily average then was only about 762 voters.

This time around, the only choice on the runoff ballot is between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker. This has made for faster voting than occurred with the Nov. 8 general election ballot, with its multiple races and referendum questions.


Changed rules

The 2020-2021 extended election season, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, had also seen the use of mailed-out absentee ballots and drop boxes for returning them encouraged, before the enactment in the state legislative session that followed of Georgia Senate Bill 202. It shortened the time to request absentee ballots, prohibited outdoor drop boxes and limited the one interior drop box allowed here to use during in-person early voting hours.

In the two-race U.S.  Senate runoff that ended Jan. 5, 2021, in Bulloch County 5,524 absentee ballots were returned.

This time, only about 1,220 paper absentee ballots were requested by Bulloch County voters before the now earlier deadline, of which 962 had been returned and counted valid as a Monday, Jones said. A few of the paper ballots requested were cancelled by voters who chose to vote in-person instead, but 222 remained outstanding and would be counted if valid and returned by the close of polls, 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Additionally, 23 military and overseas U.S.  citizen ballots, which can be sent electronically, have been voted in Bulloch County. Another 18 remained out and must be counted if returned by Friday.

Together, the mailed absentee, military and overseas and early in-person voting accounted for 9,474 voters participating as of Monday, equivalent to 21% of the 44,924 active voters on the county’s registered voter list.


Extended day

After the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office advised election officials that state law ruled out the Saturday after Thanksgiving as an early voting day, Warnock’s campaign and Democratic Party groups appealed. A judge then issued a ruling allowing counties that were planning to hold voting that Saturday to do so.

But by then, the Bulloch County Board of Elections and Registration had decided to add 30 minutes voting time to each of the five early voting weekdays, instead of attempting Saturday voting.

A few voters each day took advantage of the extension, showing up after 5 p.m., and all who were in line by 5:30 were allowed to vote. But only about 20 voters arrived after 5 p.m.  some days, and around 150 total came during the extra daily half hour over the course of the week, Jones reports.

Now, Election Day voting remains, 7 a.m.-7p.m. Dec. 6 with all 16 of Bulloch County’s traditional precincts open. Election Day voters must vote in their assigned precincts, and there will be no voting at the County Annex, except for return of absentee ballots previously issued. See the state My Voter Page, for voting location information, and remember to bring your driver’s license or other acceptable photo ID.

The Secretary of State’s Office reported that 1,712,651 Georgians voted early in-person last week and that Friday’s count of 352,953 “shattered” the previous one-day early voting record of 252,715 voters from a day in the 2016 presidential election.

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