published Monday, July 21st, 2014

Early voter turnout light in Georgia

  • photo
    John Campbell, custodian of elections in Catoosa County, arranges electronic voting machines in this file photo.
    Photo by John Rawlston /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

If early voting numbers are any indicator, most of Tuesday's runoff races in Northwest Georgia will be decided by a scant few.

Voters in that part of the state stayed home in droves during early voting for the statewide runoff election -- except in counties with local races on the ballot.

Dade and Whitfield counties, which have local runoffs Tuesday, have seen the most activity -- but the turnout was still low.

Dade County has seen just under 500 of its roughly 10,000 voters turn out for the runoff, elections official Lowanna Vaughn said, which is about 100 votes shy of the turnout for the May 20 election.

Local races on the Dade County ballot are Republicans Lamar Lowery and incumbent Mitchell Smith vying for the District 1 county commissioner seat and District 2 school board seat candidates Jennifer Hester Hartline and Summer Lawson Kelley.

All of Dade County voters and those in the western half of Walker County will decide the run-off between incumbent Republican District 1 State Rep. John Deffenbaugh and challenger Robert Goff.

Local races on the Whitfield County ballots are the County Commissioner District 1 race between Republicans Renee Davis and Barry W. Robbins and the nonpartisan battle for Judge of the Superior Court of the Conasauga Judicial Circuit between incumbent David J. Blevins and challenger Jim E. Wilbanks.

"[Turnout's] been real good, so far," Whitfield County Election Technician Rhonda Franks said. "We have a real good runoff."

But that's not so in other counties.

"It's been very slow," said Elaine Pledger, the chief registrar of voters in Chattooga County, where the ballots only have state races: a Democratic and Republican runoff for state superintendent of schools and the Republican race for U.S. Senate.

"We've had 140 people vote the whole entire time," Pledger said Friday, the last day of the three-week early voting period. That's about 1 percent of Chattooga County's roughly 13,000 registered voters.

Catoosa County, which only has state offices on the ballot, had about 520 votes cast during early voting out of about 30,000 active voters and 38,000 total voters, Custodian of Elections John Campbell said.

"Primary runoffs just do not bring out the voters," Campbell said.

On Friday morning, close to 200 of Walker County's roughly 30,000 registered voters had turned out for early voting, said Chuck Fletcher, a clerk in the county election office.

Tennessee is anticipating a higher turnout for its primary election than Georgia experienced -- although all counties in Tennessee have races on the Aug. 7 ballot. The Volunteer State's early voting period runs through Aug. 2.

"Four years ago we had 47 percent of voters turn out early," said Mark Goins, coordinator of elections for the state of Tennessee.

Goins said that Friday's turnout started off hit-or-miss for the 11 counties whose workers he had spoken with.

"What we are hearing the most is that there is a steady turnout and I am anticipating a strong turnout to continue," he said.

The ballot this election is longer than normal and it is expected to take voters double or triple the time to vote, according to Goins.

"This race is different because it has all the judicial races, which happen every 8 years," Goins said.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or twitter.com/TimOmarzu or 423-757-6651.

Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at kendi.anderson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.

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