By Curt Yeomans and Joel Hall
In Clayton County, voter turnout during the Aug. 5 runoff was a mixture of disappointment and surprise for local poll workers. Some poll locations were ghost towns on Tuesday, while others showed unexpected signs of life.
Out of 136,901 registered voters in the county, turnout on Tuesday was about 19 percent.
The polling site at Hawthorne Elementary School, for example, had predicted a low turnout, but the numbers were actually higher than expected by mid-afternoon. Even so, they were still below the July 15 results.
"We've had a little less than 8 percent of our registered voters show up so far," said Deloris Cunningham, poll manager at the Hawthorne Elementary site. "We expected about 200 voters would show up today, but it looks like we'll have more than that. We've had 194 votes cast so far."
Curtis Wells, poll manager at the Lovejoy High School precinct, said several Republicans were turned away because they voted on the Republican ballot on July 15. There were no Republicans facing runoffs in Clayton County.
Wells said 150 voters cast ballots by 3:30 p.m., but he thought some voters may have been turned off because the parking lot was full of cars. They belonged to teachers who worked at the school. He said potential voters may have thought there would be long lines.
"It's just been a trickle here," Wells said.
"Some people didn't understand that if you voted Republican in the July 15 primary, you had to vote Republican this time," said Cindy Mears, poll manager at the Morrow Municipal Complex polling location. "A lot of voters have had to be turned around."
A total of 54 votes were cast around 4 p.m, said Mears. She described the turnout as "steady," but said "advance voting was pretty heavy here, so a lot of our people have already voted."
Elsewhere, Fred Hasty, poll manager of the Riverdale First United Methodist Church, said he was "really disappointed" in the voter turnout. By 3 p.m., the center had logged 57 voters.
"We always expect turnouts to be down, but its been down-down," said Hasty. "I geared my people up and I was mad when I only got three clerks."
Most clerks ended up just "trying to pass the time," Hasty said.
At the M.D. Roberts Middle School precinct, poll manager Neil Lawson said his precinct saw 68 voters in the first hour after the poll opened, and it settled down to roughly 50 voters per hour by 9 a.m. By 2:30 p.m., the poll location had recorded nearly 400 votes.
"There is a lot of activity on somebody's part to get more people to vote," Lawson said. "The reason why more people are voting in this runoff than usual is probably because there is a bigger slate for people to choose from."
Several voters who spoke with the Clayton News Daily while leaving the polls, pointed to the way things are going in the county as a reason for voting.
Eitho Castedio, 57, of Jonesboro, said "Clayton County is in a pickle" as he left the polling location at M.D. Roberts Middle School.
It was the hotly contested sheriff's race that turned out to be a common denominator among many voters who spoke with the newspaper after casting their votes.
Sheriff Victor Hill faced democratic challenger Kem Kimbrough in the runoff. Some voters used the race as an example of the changes they wanted to see.
"I'm trying to unseat that sheriff -- that's a good enough reason to vote," said Susan Wilson, 57, a lifelong resident of Jonesboro, as she left M.D. Roberts Middle School. "I want this county straightened out. I've lived here my entire life, and I'm not going anywhere. I have no reason to go anywhere else, we just need to get the mess out of here."
Some voters said they wanted to keep Hill in office.
"We've seen the county prior to Victor Hill, and we've seen what he's done to change things," said Jonesboro resident, Towandi Jackson, 37, at Hawthorne Elementary School with his wife, Kellie. "He can be a little aggressive in his approach, but it's needed to get the county headed in the right direction," Kellie Jackson said.
Tenacity Love, a Riverdale resident, did not openly claim support for Hill, but supported the consolidation of the Clayton County Police Department under the Sheriff's Department. Hill has pushed for the move throughout his time in office.
"There are certain people that I want to see continue doing what they are doing," Love said.
Despite their views on who would do the best job running the county, many voters expressed a desire for an end to infighting, particularly among school board members and between the sheriff's department and other county offices.
"The bickering between the sheriff's department and the police department needs to stop," said Keturah Henley, a Morrow resident.
Others pointed to fighting between Hill and Board of Commissioners Chairman Eldrin Bell, and said it was a negative for both men.
Bell faced Lee Scott in the runoff.
"The first thing that motivated me was the arguing between Bell and Victor Hill, so I had to vote both of them out," said Hubert Jackson, a Morrow resident. "[Hill] has cast an image and nobody wants to work with him. You can't get nothing done like that."