Despite a statewide record rate of early voting, just about 10% of Bulloch County’s active, registered voters voted early in-person by Friday’s deadline or had returned paper absentee ballots.
However, the number who voted early in-person here this time is nearly twice that from the last primary with a governor’s race, four years ago.
Now, the county’s 16 traditional precinct polling places will be open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Tuesday for the other 90% of voters. Total turnout from that last similar primary in May 2018 was only 20%, so the 2022 total is already halfway there. Will more voters come out Tuesday than already voted early?
“You know we always hope so, to have a good voter turnout, but it’s one of those things that you can’t really call it,” said Bulloch County Election Supervisor Shontay Jones. “Like I said, we’re up in early voting from 2018, but it could turn out to be a good Election Day, or it could be slower.”
This time the County Annex hosted 15 weekdays plus two Saturdays of early voting and was joined by Parks & Recreation’s Honey Bowen Building as a second voting site for the final five days. Jones reports that the daily count of voters at the annex never dropped below the 117 seen the first day, with the exception of the first voting Saturday, May 7, when there were only 60 voters.
“With the exception of that one Saturday, every day it just increased,” she said.
The second Saturday, May 14, brought 172 voters. It was the one additional day of early voting, mandated statewide under the voting procedure changes enacted last year in Georgia Senate Bill 202.
During the resulting 17 days of in-person early voting that ended at 5 p.m. Friday, 4,061 Bulloch County residents voted using the touchscreen and printer-scanner equipment.
Meanwhile, as of last weekend, 335 paper absentee ballots had been returned, as completed, by voters to whom they had been mailed, Jones reported. Another 114 previously issued absentee ballots were still out. Absentee ballots can still be counted if returned to the Bulloch County Board of Elections and Registration Office, 113 North Main St., Statesboro, by the time the polls close at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Together, the 4,061 early in-person ballots and the 335 cast absentee ballots amount to 4,396 participating early voters, or 9.97% of Bulloch’s 44,094 registered voters currently on the active list.
Four years ago
Back in 2018, in the run-up to the May primary, 2,162 Bulloch County residents voted early in-person, or 1,899 fewer than this time. With 7,725 Bulloch County ballots cast from the start of early voting through Election Day in the May 2018 party primaries and nonpartisan general election, turnout was 19.99% of the then 38,640 active, registered voters. Since the number of registered voters has increased, the participation of about 8,814 voters would be needed this time to equal the May 2018 turnout percentage.
This time, Stacey Abrams is the only candidate for governor on the Democratic ballot, but on the Republican ballot, incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp has four in-party challengers, the most widely known being former U.S. Sen. David Perdue.
U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, has one lesser-known challenger, Tamara Johnson-Shealey on the Democratic ballot. But on the Republican ballot, former University of Georgia football great Herschel Walker is one of six candidates vying for the right to challenge Warnock in November.
Both parties’ ballots feature several candidates each for several other state offices, from lieutenant governor to labor commissioner. So, a June 21 runoff is likely for some offices. One three-candidate county commission race on the Republican ballot and one three-candidate nonpartisan school board race could also lead to runoffs in portions of Bulloch County.
Another change wrought by Senate Bill 202 concerns voting out-of-precinct Tuesday. In past elections, voters who showed up at the wrong precinct, but in the right county, on Election Day were allowed to cast provisional ballots, which Election Officials could assign to the correct precinct at the end of the day.
Provisional voting out-of-precinct is now prohibited between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Election Day. The idea is that with the polls open until 7 p.m., poll workers should direct voters to the correct precinct, and voters will still have time to get there. But casting an out-of-precinct ballot remains possible after 5 p.m. for voters willing to sign a sworn statement.
“After 5 p.m., they would fill out an affidavit stating why they couldn’t get to their precinct in time …,” Jones said. “It’s either-or (either an affidavit or traveling to the correct precinct) so that you’re not denying people the capability of voting.”
Provisional ballots – whose validity remains to be determined later – will still be allowed for some other issues such as showing up without an ID, Jones said. But to ensure that their votes can be counted, voters should try to vote at their assigned precinct and bring their driver’s license, state-issued identification card or other accepted form of government-issued photo ID.
One source of confusion for some voters, as Jones said was seen during early voting, is the fact that this election combines the party primaries with the nonpartisan general election. Voting for any candidates in the partisan races, from governor and U.S. senator to county commissioner, requires stating your choice of either the Democratic or the Republican primary ballot.
Voters who insist on getting a “nonpartisan” ballot will receive a ballot with only the specifically nonpartisan races, including those for Bulloch County State Court judge and a Georgia Supreme Court justice and, for voters in certain districts, Board of Education seats. But that nonpartisan-only ballot will not contain any of the other races. However, the nonpartisan ballot is included with both parties’ primary ballots.
“The most confusion that we experienced during early voting is people requesting a nonpartisan ballot, assuming that all the races are on there,” Jones said. “The nonpartisan races are on both the Democrat and the Republican races, but the ‘nonpartisan’ ballot has the nonpartisan candidates only.”
A countywide compilation of sample ballots appeared on page 10-A of the Saturday, May 21, Statesboro Herald. Specific sample ballots will be available at each of the precincts.
Polling place directions can be found online at https://bullochcounty.net/elections.