Voters have choices in election

By Kevin Liles

This year's election could vastly change the political landscape, especially at the local and state levels.

"It's going to be interesting," said Joe Trachtenberg, who has been a political science professor at Clayton College & State University since 1978. "The new districts drawn by the courts could have a significant effect on the balance of power for the state."

Voters will electronically cast their choices for all state legislators and many local positions at the July 20 primary.

In Clayton County, the race on many people's minds is the chairman of Board of Commissioners.

Never before has the post been held by an African-American, and all three running in the Democratic Primary are African-American. Crandle Bray, who is white and has been chairman since 1993, is not seeking re-election.

The primary will narrow the field of three Democrat n Eldrin Bell, Terry Bizzell or Wade Starr Jr. n to one. The winner will go up against Republican Michael Onyemenam in the November election.

African-American candidates are challenging on every part of the ballot this year in jobs currently held by white officials.

Sheriff Stanley Tuggle, a long-time lawman, is being challenged by State Rep. Victor Hill, an African-American Clayton County Police detective. Also challenging are two white candidates, Joe Mack Eckler and Clifford R. Hall.

Long-time district attorney Bob Keller is being challenged by attorney Jewell Scott and Michael King.

Probate Judge Pamela Ferguson is being challenged by Bobby Simmons.

In other key judicial races, solicitor general Keith Martin faces a challenge from Leslie Miller Terry. There are also some non-partisan judgeships contested.

"Clearly, Clayton County is going through some significant demographic changes. I think we're all aware of that," Trachtenberg said. "More and more African-Americans are stepping forward in elections in Clayton County, which is directly correlated with those shifts."

Clayton County now has the second highest percentage of black voters in the state, behind Hancock County, said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia.

Bullock, who specializes in Southern politics, said this year's elections might have a "bottom-up" effect.

In the "top-down" scenario, elections with high-profile national offices bring voters to the polls, who end up voting on local races, Bullock said. But when there's not much going in the national spotlight, local politics will pull in the voters.

"It's the reverse from the top-down effect," he said. "People may know who's running for sheriff and see him at the grocery store. That will get them to the polls and then they feel obligated to vote on all the other races."

Voters will use electronic machines to cast their ballots for the primary and general election. The machines, which made their debut in Georgia during the 2002 general election, will undergo logic and accuracy testing on July 6, said Annie Bright, director of elections for Clayton County.

Voters who want to save time can take participate in advanced voting.

"Quite a few people took advantage of it during our last election," said Bright. "It gives the public an opportunity to vote without going to their precincts and waiting in lines."

Unlike absentee voting, you need no reason to vote in advance. During the week before the primary n July 12-16 n people can go by the election office in the courthouse to vote.

Clayton County residents will have the opportunity to meet candidates for county political offices with a series of forums and other political events.

The Grassroots Link will hold a Clayton County Board of Education candidate forum from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. June 28 at the Clayton County Schools Performing Arts Center.

The Clayton County Coalition for Quality Education and Clayton County NAACP will also hold a school board candidate forum. Their forum will be from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. June 29 at Church Street Elementary School.

The Grassroots Link will host a forum for candidates for the Clayton County Board of Commissioners from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. June 30 at the Performing Arts Center.

Residents will be able to meet one-on-one with candidates of all local races during a Meet the Candidates forum sponsored by The Grassroots Link. The forum will be from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. July 10 at Sparkles Skating Rink.

But not everyone keeps up with politics.

Clayton County registered voter Cassie Lewis, a 29-year-old student at Clayton College & State University, said she isn't too keen on local politics.

"I only moved here a couple of years ago," she said. "I don't really know anything about the local races."