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Election officials brace for solid turnout

By Justin Boron

In what looks to be one of the largest state turnouts in the last five presidential elections, Clayton County voters are set to make history in local politics when they elect the first African-American chairman to a majority black county commission.

Two African-Americans, Democrat Eldrin Bell and Republican Michael Onyemenam, are up for the job.

The District 6 school board race between Republican Joel Dixon, 26, and Democrat Eddie White, 68, pitting youth against experience in a school system that recently was taken off probation, also is expected to draw voters.

About 3,000 Clayton County voters have already got in on the action, undaunted by the three to four hour lines that wrapped around the Old Courthouse for five straight days. Election officials expect a similar sight Tuesday at polling locations throughout the county.

Secretary of State Cathy Cox has predicted a 72 percent turnout in Georgia. The more than 3 million votes cast would be the most since 1992 when the previous President George Bush ran against President Bill Clinton and independent Ross Perot.

Anticipation of long waits led Cox's office to purchase 1,000 additional touch screen terminals distributed to all the counties.

Her office also is recommending that voters attempt to hit the polls at off-hours. Early-morning, lunch, and evening would be peak voting times, said Kara Sinkule, a spokesperson for the secretary of state.

From 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. would be the prime windows for voters who want to be in and out, she said.

Voters who show up in the evening should expect the worst of the lines, but should not fret, since no one in line by 7 p.m., when the polls close, will be turned away, Sinkule said.

"Typically, they will put an election official or a police officer at the end of the line at 7 p.m.," she said.

But once in line, evening voters may not cast their ballot until nine or 10 p.m. in certain places in the state, she said.

In the last presidential election, there were polls in Dekalb County where people did not vote until 11 p.m., Sinkule said.

To help streamline the process, voters should know their polling location (see a list of polling locations inside) and have their voter registration card or photo identification before they head out to cast their ballot.

Whether the surge in advance voting and the larger than normal turnout has favored one side of the election is still left to be determined.

One advance voter, John Austin of Jonesboro, said he was voting Republican.

"I'm voting for Bush because he is a good president and done well so far," he said.

But at least in Clayton County, an abundance of people looked to be headed toward the Democratic side of the ticket.

Waiting for her husband to bring her lunch, Sharron Hope of Forest Park said she would be voting Democrat.

Mary Irvin of Hampton said she had 1,001 things to do Tuesday but myriad reasons for voting Democrat.

"The country is at war, you've got healthcare," she said.