The polls will be open Tuesday in Bulloch County’s 16 voting precincts from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. in the general election for contested offices ranging from president of the United States to county sheriff and coroner.
Since almost 21,000 of the county’s 48,090 registered voters already cast ballots in the two forms of early voting, 15,000 more participating voters now would propel the turnout past the 73.5% level of November 2016. Between 140 and 150 poll workers employed by the Bulloch County Board of Elections and Registration are scheduled to check in voters and guide them through the process at polling places from Lockhart to Sinkhole and from Portal to Stilson.
Four precincts have new or temporarily relocated polling places, although some of these were already in use for the June primary and August runoff. Meanwhile, one polling place, Fair Precinct, is back in its traditional location, the club headquarters at the Kiwanis Fairgrounds, 16942 Georgia Highway 67, Statesboro. A previous move to the Agricultural Complex was only temporary, when the Kiwanis air-conditioning needed fixing.
But now, the Portal Precinct’s move to the Aaron Worship Center Social Hall, 351 N. Grady St., Portal, is considered permanent.
The Leefield Precinct is temporarily relocated to Leefield Baptist Church, 5294 Brooklet-Leefield Road. Nevils Precinct’s voting has been temporarily moved across the street from the 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.
COVID-19 pandemic social distancing, added to the requirements of Georgia’s new voting system with its printers and scanners, forced these polls out of smaller buildings or rooms.
With tensions running high nationally over this election, a question to local voting officials was whether law enforcement officers will be assigned to the polling places. There are no plans to have sheriff’s deputies or police officers “sitting guard” in the precincts, but “extra patrols, yes!” said Bulloch County Election Supervisor Patricia Lanier Jones.
Both the Nevils Precinct, now at the school, and the Statesboro Precinct, in the William James Educational Complex, home of the Bulloch County Schools central offices and Transitions Learning Center, will have school resource officers on duty, she said.
Voters should bring their Georgia driver’s license or other valid, government-issued photo ID, but not bring campaign shirts, hats or brochures to the polls, the election managers advise. Under Georgia law, campaigning is prohibited within 150 feet of any building used as a polling place.
Absentee paper ballots previously mailed out at voters request can still be returned, also until the close of polls at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The only places to return them now are the elections office, 113 North Main Street in the County Annex, or in the outside drop box in the annex parking lot.
The other option is to give up that never-completed absentee ballot and vote in-person at your assigned precinct, another Jones on the elections staff, Deputy Registrar Shontay Jones, reminds voters.
“If a voter has requested a paper ballot and did not receive it, or didn’t vote it and want to vote in-person at their precinct (Tuesday), they should take the ballot with them to the precinct or sign an affidavit stating why they no longer want to vote the paper ballot,” she said.
But except for turning in paper ballots already in their possession, nobody can vote at the annex Tuesday. It was the longest-serving of three in-person early voting locations, but early voting ended at 5 p.m. Friday.
Shontay Jones also advises that the election headquarters’ phones may stay busy with calls from voters or precincts. So voters who need to check their registration status or find their precinct location can instead go online to the statewide My Voter Page at www.mvp.sos.ga.gov.
Voters who do not find their information when they select “Bulloch” should try again after selecting the last county they believe they were registered in, she said.
Voters can also check the status of their absentee ballot – to see whether it was accepted – through the My Voter Page.
Paper ballots opened
Election officials are not allowed to begin counting votes – even from absentee ballots submitted weeks ago– until after the polls close at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
But this year the Georgia’s State Election Board gave permission for early processing of paper absentee ballots, short of electronically scanning them to count the votes.
In Bulloch County, about nine election personnel began opening the ballot envelopes Saturday, working from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., with a six-member Vote Review Panel there to evaluate problem ballots. The panel is made up of equal numbers of local people from the two major political parties and the elections office staff.
After opening the outer envelopes that carry voters’ names, the election workers separate these from the anonymous inner envelopes so that the names won’t be known. Then they open the inner envelopes.
When a ballot is damaged or marked so that it could not be scanned – such as with an ‘X’ instead of a filled-in circle – or if a voter crossed out one choice and marked another, the review panel determines the voter’s intent. Then a duplicate ballot is created, representing the voter’s choices as read by the panel.
Six people resumed opening envelopes for two and a half hours Sunday afternoon, Shontay Jones reported. In nearly 10 hours over the weekend, about 5,900 absentee ballots were opened. The review panel had to make duplicates of about 150 of those, she said.
But with absentee ballots continuing to arrive by mail and in the drop boxes, the total received had risen to 6,239 by Monday afternoon. So the elections staff still has some to process, and more are expected Tuesday.
Also, 40 absentee ballots from military and overseas voters had arrived electronically. Added to the 14,407 in-person early voters, that brings the total to at least 20,686 Bulloch County voters participating before the final Election Day, or already a 43% turnout.