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Voter turnout thins out after big morning

By Curt Yeomans and Joel Hall

cyeomans@news-daily.com and

jhall@news-daily.com

A large morning rush on the polls, which resulted in as much as three-hour waits at some locations, did not lead to similar situations throughout the day at any polling site in Clayton County.

Clayton officials were prepared for long lines and multi-hour waits at the polls on Tuesday, and the early morning turnout indicated they might be right. However, the lines were virtually nonexistent by noon, and Board of Elections Director Annie Bright said there were no lines at any polling site when they closed at 7 p.m.

Several poll managers said it is because nearly half of the county's registered voters cast ballots during the early and advanced voting periods.

Nearly 70 percent of Clayton County's 148,543 registered voters participated in the general election, including an estimated 42 percent who took advantage of early and advanced voting.

"There's not going to be a big [late] push, because there aren't many people left to vote," said Neil Lawson, manager of the M.D. Roberts Middle School polling site, at 4 p.m. There were about 250 people in line when the polling site opened its doors, but the line was gone by 11 a.m. "All of the news media said there would be long lines, so a lot of people went ahead and voted early ... Of course, if anyone had told them it'd be like this, they probably would have waited."

After long lines had become common place at early and advanced polling sites in the county in recent weeks, some county officials anticipated similar scenes on election day. Still, Bright said there were no surprises in terms of turnout.

"We anticipated it [Tuesday's light turnout], but we planned for a large turnout just in case," said Bright. "We added more voting machines and poll workers. We were prepared."

Adamson Middle School in Rex, designated as Morrow Precinct 5, saw a large surge of early-morning voters. Beverley Vereen, poll manager of the precinct, said the first voter showed up at the middle school at 3 a.m.

"The first [voter] was here at 3 a.m., and he was almost finished with a novel," said Vereen. "I got here at 5:15 a.m., and there were about 25 people here with chairs."

Shortly after the polls opened at 7 a.m., the queue of voters stretched back out to Rex Road. At a rate of about 100 voters an hour, the lines quickly dissipated by noon, according to Vereen.

"Fifty-six percent of our precinct has already early-voted," said Vereen. "I can't believe we have this down time."

At the Lovejoy High School polling location, workers found a line of 100 people waiting for them at 5:30 a.m., said Curtis Wells, the manager of the Lovejoy High School polling site. By the time the doors opened at 7 a.m., the line had grown to 250 people. "It took three hours to get them all through the process, and since then, it's been this [a few people filing in and out at a time]," said Wells.

"Advanced and early voting helped some, but of course, it's made it kind of boring for us today."

The people who waited in the long, early-morning rush at Lovejoy High School had some comfort because the school's marching band was selling refreshments, including hot chocolate, coffee, Texas Rolls, muffins and hot wings, to the voters to help raise funds for new band uniforms. Band booster club leaders did not specify how much money they made, but the students said sales were brisk.

"It was slow for about the first five minutes, but then it picked up really fast," said Kiarra Morton, a sophomore member of the band, who worked the refreshment stand from 8 a.m., when sales began, to 7 p.m.

Willie Oswalt, mayor of Lake City, cast his vote at the National Archives Southeast Region's office on Tuesday. While he was encouraged to see more women and African Americans at the polls, he was dismayed that it took a woman and an African American running for office to get people excited about the election process.

"I don't care who is running ... it ought to be this way all the time," said Oswalt.

Jonesboro resident, Laura Wootton, 21, was at M.D. Roberts Middle School on Tuesday afternoon to vote in her first presidential election. She said she was not surprised that she could arrive at the polling site, walk up and vote within 10 minutes after seeing the long lines for early and advanced voting.

"More than 40 percent of Clayton County's registered voters have already cast their ballots, so it just makes sense that there wouldn't be the long lines they were anticipating," said Wootton.

Sabra Joyce-Medley, an 84 year-old Morrow resident, however, said she is happy to finally see younger people get excited about the election process.

"I don't have many more votes left, but as long as I can, I will," said Joyce-Medley. "I'm proud of the young people and the way the women are turning out as well. It's a crossroads, I feel like."