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Despite issues, voters just a 'trickle' at the polls

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

Poll workers were surprised by the low turnout at the county's primary elections. Voters seemed to just trickle in, through the day Tuesday.

Statewide, about 30 percent of registered voters were expected to stop at the polls, and in Clayton County, with so many public controversies and crisises, it seemed like there would be even larger numbers of voters at the polls.

Poll manager Deloris Cunningham, at Hawthorne Elementary, described the turnout as "trickle in, and trickle out."

Of the roughly 132,000 registered voters in Clayton County, about 7,000 voted early and a little more than 21,000 voted at the polls on Tuesday, putting turnout at a low 21 percent.

"We staffed for a huge turnout," said Neil Lawson, poll manager at M.D. Roberts Middle School. "They've been dribbling in today ... I think a lot of people are waiting for the presidential election. It seems like, with the local elections, people just aren't drawn as well."

The largest precinct in the county -- Jonesboro 5 -- has about 3,500 people registered to vote at Suder Elementary. At 12:30 p.m., only 360 voters, a little more than 10 percent, had cast ballots.

"We'll be lucky if we get 20 percent," said Barbara Watson, the assistant poll manager at Suder Elementary, in Jonesboro. "It's been real slow. We're kind of surprised."

At Morrow City Hall, at 1 p.m., only about 150 people had voted. The poll manager at Morrow City Hall, Cindi Mears, said the precinct might get the predicted 30 percent of the registered voters.

"Some people," Mears said, "don't think this is as important as the presidential election, but it is. Some people have that set in their minds, but we're here for them. We want them to exercise their right to vote."

Poll clerk Mary Astin, at the First Presbyterian Church of Jonesboro, said even though there was only a "drizzle" of voters, some of them seemed highly motivated.

"The people that are here really want to be here," she said. "They have a point they want to make."

Brenda Robertson-Short, voting at M.D. Roberts Middle School, said she was one of those voters making a point with her vote.

"I came out to vote because of the climate in Clayton County," Robertson-Short said. "It's pathetic and we need change. I do business, and pay taxes here. I'm just totally and thoroughly disgusted by what's going on. It's the school board, the sheriff and the board of commissioners."

Ruth Walter, voting at Pointe South Middle School, agreed. "It's all the controversy in the county," she said. "We always vote, but we especially wanted to make sure we got it in today."

At some of the polling places, however, it seemed like there were more people campaigning out on the street than voting inside.

One intersection in Jonesboro had a corner occupied by supporters of Clayton County District Attorney Jewel Scott, a second corner occupied by supports of Solicitor General Leslie Miller Terry, a third by supporters of sheriff candidate, Ernest Strozier, and the fourth by supporters of sheriff's candidate, Kem Kimbrough.

A Kimbrough supporter and a Strozier supporter were shouting at each other, back and forth across the street: "Strozier." "Kimbrough." "Strozier." "Kimbrough."

At lunch time, the campaign workers in front of the Headquarters Library, on Battle Creek, pulled out lawn chairs and pizza, looking like they were waiting for a parade.

Some voters came to the polls with relish, though. Glenn Booker, Jr., a recent Morrow High School grad, who has signed up with the Marine Corps, said he was voting for the first time.

As he walked out of Morrow City Hall, Booker said, "The people we vote for in these smaller elections is what's really important, because the national elections are based on electoral votes. [In this vote], you have more power."

According to election results, late Tuesday, about 28,000 registered voters agreed with him. There were, though, about 104,000 people who chose not to vote in the primary election.

Staff reporters Joel Hall and Curt Yeomans contributed to this report.