By Joel Hall and Valerie Baldowski
Voters in all four of Henry County's cities, and two of Clayton County's cities, will be able to cast early ballots beginning next week in the upcoming Nov. 3 elections.
Balloting in a third Clayton city, Jonesboro, has already begun.
In addition, some Clayton residents also have the chance to vote early in the Nov. 3 special election to fill the seat of former state Rep. Celeste Johnson, who vacated her House District 75 seat before the end of her term.
According to Janet Shellnutt, director of elections and registration for Henry County, all eligible voters who have registered to vote, and live within the city limits, will be able to cast ballots in their city elections. All voting will be done using touch-screen units, she said.
The City of McDonough will hold absentee/early/advance voting at the Elections and Registration office, at 345 Phillips Drive in McDonough. The voting dates and times, said Shellnutt, will be Oct. 12-30, from 8 a.m., to 5 p.m., for absentee/early voting.
Advance voting for the McDonough elections, she said, will be Oct. 26-30, from 8 a.m., to 5 p.m.
Shellnutt said voting hours on election day will be 7 a.m., to 7 p.m. Voters in City Council Districts 1 and 4 will vote at Henry County Middle School. Districts 2 and 3 will vote at the McDonough police/fire station.
For the City of Stockbridge, she continued, absentee/early/advance voting will be held at the old Stockbridge City Hall, at 4545 North Henry Boulevard. Absentee/early voting will be Oct. 12-30, while advance voting will be Oct. 26-30. The times for both will be 8 a.m., to 5 p.m.
Voting on election day will be from 7 a.m., to 7 p.m., at the old City Hall, said Shellnutt.
The City of Hampton will hold its absentee/early voting Oct. 12-30, from 8 a.m., to 5 p.m., at the Elections and Registration office. Advance voting at the Hampton City Hall will be Oct. 26-30, from 9 a.m., to 5 p.m.
On election day, Hampton voters can cast their ballots at the Hampton train depot from 7 a.m., to 7 p.m., Shellnutt added.
Locust Grove will hold absentee/early/advance voting Oct. 12-30 at the Elections and Registration office, and Oct. 26-30 at the Locust Grove Recreation Building. Voting times are 8 a.m., to 5 p.m.
On election day, Shellnutt said, voting in Locust Grove will be done at the recreation building from 7 a.m., to 7 p.m.
In Clayton County, only the cities of Forest Park, Riverdale, and Jonesboro will hold municipal elections. Early voting for the City of Jonesboro started this week and early voting for Forest Park and Riverdale will begin on Monday and Tuesday, respectively.
According to Jonesboro Finance Clerk Sandra Meyers, the City of Jonesboro has been accepting early voters since Thursday, and will continue to do so until 5 p.m., on Friday, Oct. 30. She said all early voting will take place with paper ballots at Jonesboro City Hall, 124 North Ave., in Jonesboro, Monday through Friday, between the hours of 8 a.m., and 5 p.m.
"We're using paper ballots for absentee [and early voting], but this year, we are going to the machines for the actual election day," Meyers said. "We're using three machines. I think it will be a lot faster and it will be easier to do the validating."
According to David Painter, elections superintendent for the City of Forest Park, the city recently spent $30,000 to purchase 10 of its own electronic voting machines and will be using them to conduct early voting. Forest Park City Hall, located at 745 Forest Parkway in Forest Park, will host early voting Oct. 12-30 between the hours of 8:30 a.m., and 4:30 p.m.
"We're doing it with touch-screen machines," said Painter. "The county has loaned them in the past to the municipalities, but there has always been a stipulation that if they had an election and needed them, then we wouldn't get them. The county advised us that we should budget for our own machines, and in 2009, we took their advice."
Painter said early voters will need to bring a valid picture identification, but added that anyone can vote using a provisional ballot.
"Nobody is denied the right to vote because of their identification," Painter said. "They can always vote provisional. However, their vote may not count depending on what we are able to prove in the next 48 hours. The voter is still obligated to prove that he or she is eligible to vote."
Early voting in Riverdale will take place Oct. 13-30, between the hours of 8:30 a.m., and 5:30 p.m., at Riverdale City Hall, located at 6690 Church Street in Riverdale.
According to Riverdale City Clerk Stephanie Thomas, the city has been historically plagued by low voter turnout. She said this year, the city is going out of its way to promote early voting.
"Historically, the [voter turnout] numbers have been very low, less than 10 percent," Thomas said. "Just to get more people aware, we have a marketing campaign where we are sending information out to every registered voter by mail. We also purchased aluminum street signs and are putting them in every subdivision. We want to get as many people out to vote as possible. Hopefully people will understand that this is one of the most important constitutional rights that they can exercise."
According to Clayton County Board of Elections and Registration Director Annie Bright, Clayton residents living within House District 75 will have the opportunity to vote early in the Nov. 3 special election until Oct. 30. Early voting will take place at the Clayton County Board of Elections and Registration, located at 121 South McDonough Street in Jonesboro, inside the Historic Clayton County Courthouse.
"We haven't had anybody to vote," as of Friday, Bright said. She said early voting has been available since Oct. 5.
According to Bright early voting will take place at the Elections and Registration office Monday through Friday from 8 a.m., to 5 p.m., until Friday, Oct. 23. From Oct. 26 to Oct. 30, those hours will be extended to a period from 8 a.m., to 7 p.m.
To mail in an absentee ballot, voters must fill out an official Georgia absentee voter application and mail or deliver that application to their respective polling station, according to Bright. After the applications are reviewed by the Board of Elections and Registration, an absentee ballot will be mailed to the voter. Completed ballots must be returned to their respective polling stations before the close of the polls on Nov. 3.
Absentee applications can be downloaded by visiting www.co.clayton.ga.us or www.sos.georgia.gov.
For more information about voting in Henry County, call (770) 288-6448.