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Ready or not - here they come

By Justin Boron

Poll Manager Irene Goree of Riverdale-4 set up her voting machines Monday in preparation for a seething electorate that has been heated up by months of bitter campaigning on either side of the presidential ticket.

The expected onslaught of voters will draw a conclusion to the divisive race that has rendered political forecasters and pollsters all but useless.

Working in elections for about 35 years, Goree said she hasn't witnessed this much voter enthusiasm in Georgia since the nation elected Jimmy Carter to the presidency.

But she said like any election, contentious or not, she would do the job the same way as in the past.

"You do your best to assure everyone their right to vote," Goree said.

Poll workers will be doing their best with what they have throughout Clayton County as they face the lowest ratio of voter booths to registered voters in metro Atlanta.

Annie Bright, the director of Clayton County elections and registration, said this late in the game, there was little anyone could do to remedy the shortage.

"We'll have more machines next election," she said, adding that there are stand-by voter machines ready if one malfunctions.

Goree said she was not worried about the long lines.

"I've seen them this long before," she said.

Her strategy is to divide up her staff and accommodate the crowd, dividing the voters into two alphabetical lines: A-L and M-Z.

If one line becomes longer than the other, she said she would balance them out, moving voters to the less crowded line.

"We don't let these people just stand there," Goree said.

Despite the best accommodations poll workers can offer, the long lines could be made worse by poor weather.

The National Weather Service in Peachtree City is forecasting a 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms after noon. In the evening, the chance of rain bumps up to 40 percent.

Regardless of weather, Bright said she expects long lines into the evening after the polls close.

One factor that may alleviate poll lines today is the number of advanced and absentee voters who already cast their ballot.

After more than 4,000 advance voters dragged through the halls of the Old Courthouse in Jonesboro last week, eager citizens continued to galvanize the hectic pace in the elections and registration office.

Flooded by last-minute absentee voters and phone calls about the poll locations, the elections office retained the fervor that has reverberated through it in the last two weeks.

Employees multi-tasked through phone calls, data entries, and questions from people packing the lobby and spilling out the building's front door.

A similar energy flowed through the streets in certain places in the county where candidates continued to campaign, promising not to let up until the last vote was cast.

Republican nominee Emory Wilkerson rode around with his campaign manager to various intersections in the state House District 74, waving at drivers in attempt to pull votes away from his Democratic opponent, Roberta Abdul-Salaam.

Abdul-Salaam made a similar push at several shopping centers throughout the district.

Likewise, Republican nominee for county commission chairman, Michael Onyemenam, was out shaking hands with voters at local businesses Monday, trying to pull off what would be a tremendous victory over Democrat nominee Eldrin Bell in a county that traditionally favors Democrats.

Bell, who warded off intense criticism about his Atlanta Police Department background, has already sent out invitations to his inauguration ceremony at the Clayton County Performing Arts Center.

Candidates for the District 6 school board race joined the group of politicians canvassing the county at doorsteps and businesses.

Republican nominee Joel Dixon and Democratic nominee Eddie White said they would be out making voter contact until tomorrow.

The District 34 race between Valencia Seay, D-College Park and Edith Marie Mullin, R-Fayetteville will also receive some attention from voters within the district that includes Fayette County and most of Riverdale in Clayton County.

While much of the campaigning in the U.S. Senate race has been done elsewhere in the state, Clayton County voters will cast their ballot for either Republican nominee Johnny Isakson or Democratic nominee Denise Majette.

Voters will also be asked if they want to amend the state constitution to define marriage as a bond between a man and a woman. Gay rights organizations have been fighting the Amendment and religious groups have been supporting it.

As the polls close, the results will trickle in county by county, said Kara Sinkule, a spokesperson for Secretary of State Cathy Cox.

The unofficial results should be in by 12 a.m. Wednesday, she said.