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After low primary turnout, runoff advance votes show chance of higher turnout

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

After a poor showing of absentee, advance, and election day voters in the July 15 primary, many Clayton County voters are heading to the polls this week during advance voting to vote in the Aug. 5 runoff. According to polling officials, many people who elected not to vote in the primary are voting in the runoff.

"It was pitiful," said Estelle Bell, poll manager of the Morrow Municipal Center advance voting site, describing voter turnout during the primary. Out of 136,901 registered voters in the county, only around 28,000 people -- just over 20 percent -- voted in the primary. Of those who voted, 5,864 people voted either in advance or absentee.

Bell, however, said early voting totals in Morrow this week have been much higher than Monday and Tuesday early voting numbers recorded during the week of advance voting before the primary. As of Tuesday just before noon, the Morrow Municipal Center had recorded approximately 280 votes, Bell said.

"We voted 100 more [this Monday] than the other Monday, so we have been pleasantly surprised," said Bell. "Maybe some of that 80 percent will come out. Usually, runoffs have historically low turnout ... but this time it might be equal or even better."

At the Carl Rhodenizer Recreation Center in Rex, one of the newest advance voting sites in the county, poll manager Clarence Evans recorded similar gains from the Monday and Tuesday advance voting totals on July 7 and 8.

"There is a little more enthusiasm in this area," said Evans. "I've had several this morning that didn't even vote in the primary. The last time they voted was in February, but they came back for the runoff."

Evans said his combined July 7 and 8 advance votes were only 120, but as of Tuesday around noon, he had already recorded 180 advance votes at the Carl Rhodenizer Recreation Center.

"I am encouraged by what I am seeing, because every day, we are having a greater turnout, and this is only the seventh day we have had an advance voting site," in Rex, said Evans.

Annie Bright, director of the Clayton County Board of Elections, said that county-wide, Monday advance voting totals were 1,413, which could indicate strong interest.

Essila Ringer, a school counselor from College Park who voted in the primary and on Tuesday in Morrow, said she is "tired of the status quo in Clayton County.

"I was actually shocked by [the low turnout in the primary] because with the school board situation, I thought a lot more people would come out," said Ringer. "You can't really complain, if you don't do anything about it.

"I am a product of Clayton County schools, so I want them to succeed and I want qualified people to take those positions based on credentials, not on race," Ringer continued. She said voting in the runoff gives the candidates of her choosing "the best shot" at winning the election.

Ellen Lyle, an adult educator from Rex, said she voted in advance on Tuesday to make sure "my July vote was worthwhile."

"Not just the school system, but county-wide, we need to be on track as to where we are going," said Lyle. "We have some pressing concerns that need to be addressed and the voting place is where it needs to be done."

Advance voting is open this week, Monday to Friday, from 8 a.m., to 7 p.m., at the following locations: The Elections and Registration office, in the Historic Courthouse; Lee Headquarters Library, in Jonesboro; Lovejoy Branch Library; the Morrow Municipal Complex Community Room; Frank Bailey Senior Center in Riverdale, and the Carl Rhodenizer Recreation Center in Rex.

Registered voters can vote at any of the six locations, regardless of their polling precinct and those who did not vote in the primary are welcome to vote in the runoff. Voters must provide a valid form of identification, which include a Georgia driver's license, a U.S. military ID card, a free Georgia voter ID card.