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Absentee voting to begin on Monday

By Michael Davis

If you don't plan to be in town Nov. 2, or you're disabled and can't leave the house, you can still cast your ballot in the general election.

Absentee voting for the general election begins Monday.

Ballots for general elections are ready 45 days in advance and voters who know they will be unable to make it to the polls election day are allowed to cast ballots early.

Election officials, including Henry County Election Director Janet Shellnutt, predict far more voters to cast early ballots in the upcoming election than did for the July 20 primary or runoff.

"We got over 200 military ballots sent out this week," said Shellnutt. Absentee ballots for reasons other than overseas military service will be mailed next week, she added.

But as election officials in Henry continue to take in voter registration forms, which are due by Oct. 2, and absentee ballot applications, election officials in Clayton County are preparing for the last day of absentee voting in a special school sales tax referendum.

"We're just trying to get this one out of the way," said Clayton County Election Director Annie C. Bright.

After a week of advance voting in the Sept. 21 special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) election, which ended Friday, voters will have one last opportunity to cast absentee ballots in that election Monday, if they can't make it to the polls Tuesday.

Bright said she expects to have absentee voting for the Nov. 2 election available on the electronic machines in the election office by the middle of the week.

In Henry, voting on electronic machines will be available Monday during normal business hours, Shellnutt said.

Fourteen machines sat at the ready in the registrar's office in McDonough Friday, as election workers busily sorted registration cards, took requests for absentee ballots and readied ballots for mailing. "We're looking at mailing out 5,000 to 10,000 (ballots)," she said.

At stake in the general election, is the presidential election, which Shellnutt said typically draws voters who don't normally cast ballots in other elections. Earlier this year, as word spread that voters can vote during the week before an election, the advance voting period, more than 1,000 took advantage in Henry County in each election.

"What we learned in July and August is that advance voting is popular," Shellnutt said. So popular in fact, election officials are tinkering with the idea of opening up more machines in an office behind the registrar's office, if they need to.

To obtain an absentee ballot, a registered voter can either call in a request or mail a request to their local election office. To be eligible to vote absentee, a voter must either know they won't be in their precinct on Nov. 2 or otherwise unable to make it to the polls due to physical limitations.

Voters can come to the election office in McDonough to cast absentee ballots on the regular voting machines, but must meet the requirements to vote absentee.

Shellnutt said that often, local political party's leaders mail absentee ballot requests to party members, which helps to increase the voter rolls.

Along with a choice for president, Georgia voters will have two state Constitutional amendments to decide: one on gay marriage, and one that would give the Supreme Court jurisdiction to decide on cases of law from any state or appellate court.

The gay marriage debate, which raged in the Capitol during this year's session of the General Assembly, has largely quieted in the build-up to the election.

Those on both sides of the debate over whether to amend the state Constitution to define marriage as being between a man and a woman say that campaigning too early on the issue might be a waste of time and money.

"It's a moot point to be out there too early. The average person doesn't pay attention ? until September, early October," said director of the state Christian Coalition Sadie Field, whose intense lobbying efforts are credited by many for getting the amendment approved earlier this year.

Gay rights activists protest that the language on the ballot is not the language that will appear in the constitution if the amendment is passed. The text of the amendment, they say, restricts the state from recognizing civil unions performed in other states.

"We're telling people, ?You've kind of been tricked,'" said state Rep. Karla Drenner, a Democrat from Avondale Estates and the Legislature's only openly gay member.

Thursday, the American Civil Liberty Union of Georgia and Lambda Legal, a civil rights organization that supports homosexuals, filed suit in Fulton County Superior Court to have the question removed from the ballot. The lawsuit focuses on the state law requiring that residents only vote on one proposed amendment at a time.

Gay marriage is already illegal in Georgia, and this proposed amendment would make that ban part of the state's Constitution.

Aside from the state referendums, a special election on Act 683-House Bill 1538 sponsored by Rep. John Lunsford, R-McDonough, is also on the ballot. The act would effectively "freeze" property taxes in Henry County at their current assessment by providing for a "floating" homestead exemption. The exemption would rise every year enough to accommodate any increase in assessed value.

"When you sell (the home), the new owner pays the new tax," Lunsford said.

Republican U.S. Congressman Johnny Isakson faces Democrat Denise Majette, for retiring U.S. Sen. Zell Miller's seat. Libertarian candidate Allen Buckley is also running for the open seat. Several congressional districts are also up for a decision.

A number of state Senate and Representative posts are also in contention.

The state Court of Appeals race that was challenged after the July primary is back on the ballot. Candidate Howard Mead sought another election after his name was incorrectly printed on ballots in more than two dozen precincts.

For a complete list visit the Web site of the office of the Secretary of State or your local registrar's office.

On the Web: http://www.sos.state.ga.us

http:// www.co.clayton.ga.us

http://www.co.henry.ga.us

The Associated Press contributed to this article.