By Kathy Jefcoats
All this coming week, voters in Henry and Clayton counties won't have to come up with an excuse as to why they can't cast a ballot on Election Day they can honestly just say they want to vote early.
"This gives them a legal right to vote ahead of time," said Janet Shellnutt, Henry elections director. "We expect next week's turnout for advance voting to be heavy."
Georgia law governing voting was changed last year and went into effect in March. Prior to the change, only voters with specific reasons could vote early.
Absentee balloting has been available for years to voters 75 and older, to voters with a physical disability, or a constant caregiver to a person with a physical disability and to election officials. Voters observing a religious holiday that prevents them from getting to the polls or poll workers who have to remain on duty in their precinct for the protection of life, health or safety of the public may also cast an absentee ballot.
Voters who are absent from their precinct during the time the polls are open, 7 a.m.-7 p.m., can cast absentee ballots.
But from Monday to Friday, voters who don't fall into one of those categories can vote early anyway. It is the second time since the law changed that advance voting has been available. Clayton County Elections Director Annie Bright said advance voting went "pretty well" in March.
"I can't guess how many might show up next week but I'd like to see the line around the building," she said. "We just enjoy having people come into the office, seeing people we haven't seen in two years, giving out hugs, you know."
Shellnutt hopes 35 to 40 percent of Henry County's 85,000 registered voters will show up to vote in the July 20 primary but Bright said she couldn't venture a guess on how many of Clayton County's 120,473 voters might turn out.
"Some of those are inactive voters, which means they haven't voted in the last two general elections, who can vote this time around," said Bright. "And when they do, they'll be put on the active list."
Voters interested in casting ballots early need to come to their elections office Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. They will need to fill out a simple form and election workers will be on hand to answer any questions and cast their ballot. Shellnutt said Henry voters can use the electronic system but Bright said voters in Clayton County will mark a paper ballot.
Both women expect run-off elections, set for Aug. 10. Even if you don't who vote in the primary you can still vote in the run-off. You just can't vote in one party's primary and another party's run-off. It is too late to register for the July 20 primary but the deadline for the Nov. 2 election is Oct. 4.
Absentee voting began about 30 days ago and will continue during the advance voting week.
"It hasn't been heavy yet, which is why I expect next week to be busy," Shellnutt said.
Bright said her staff has been busy getting out the word to the public, including posting notices on the office Web site. She doesn't think advance voting impacts her staff one way or another but expects poll workers to reap the benefits.
"I am sure it helps the poll managers out," she said. "They don't have as many people to come to the polls."
Whether the votes are cast in advance or at the polls, Shellnutt wants residents to vote, period.
"We'd like to have more people vote but unfortunately, a lot won't vote in the primary but wait until November," she said. "The July primary is just as important as the election in November because it decides what you vote on in November."
Advance voting ends Friday. Voters who cast early ballots cannot also vote at the polls.
For more information, call the Henry County Board of Elections at 770-954-2021 or the Clayton County Board of Elections at 770-477-3372.