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Election director: Low SPLOST voter turnout expected

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

An early-voting turnout of just one-tenth of one percent of eligible voters is leading Clayton County Board of Elections and Registration Director Annie Bright to predict a small turnout for next Tuesday's special election.

To be decided is whether voters will extend Clayton County Public Schools' Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) -- which ends Dec. 31 -- for five more years.

Of the county's 144,434 registered voters, only 163 people had cast absentee or advanced-voting ballots by 1 p.m., on Thursday, Bright said. Absentee voting began last month, 45 days before the special election date. The numbers translates into to a voter turnout of 0.11 percent for the special election so far. The county's election director said that number does not bode well for the chances of a high turnout on election day.

"It's going to be slow," Bright said. "I don't expect a high turnout on Tuesday, but you never know what will happen."

Today is the last day of advanced voting for the special election. Anyone seeking to cast their ballot through advanced voting can do so by going to the Clayton County Board of Elections and Registration's office, which is located at 121 South McDonough Street, in Jonesboro, between 8 a.m., and 7 p.m.

Anyone who wants to cast their ballot on the day of the special election will have to go to their regular voting precinct between 7 a.m., and 7 p.m., on Tuesday.

School System Chief Operations Officer Cephus Jackson has said the tax revenue from the extended SPLOST, which would be known as SPLOST IV, would be used to pay for a variety of projects, ranging from school renovations, to the construction of a new Riverdale Elementary School, to the purchase of new school buses.

Dana Lemon, who is leading a volunteer effort to build support for the measure, said a good turnout for the special election will be "more 'Yeses' than 'Nos.' "

Bright said she could not explain the low turnout for absentee and advanced voting, but that it is not unusual for special elections to have a low turnout.

She added that in March 2007, when the county's government asked voters to approve a special election on a Local Option Sales Tax (LOST), only 6,845 of Clayton County's then-131,794 registered voters participated. That was a voter turnout of only 5.2 percent.

"I can't say why people are not showing up to vote," Bright said. "I know the information [about the special election] is out there. We've had it posted on our web site, and it's been published in the Clayton News Daily. It depends on what is on the ballot, and if it's enough to get people out to vote."

Lemon said her group's main effort has been to remind people about the date of the election and boost support for it, but she is not surprised by the low turnout thus far. "We were expecting that, if people were going to vote, they would do so on Sept. 15, because that's what all of our information, that we handed out, had on it," she said.

Morrow parent Larry O'Keeffe, president of Morrow High School's school council, a member of the school board's ethics commission, urged residents to cast ballots in the election, in an e-mail to several community members on Wednesday.

"A low voter turnout means that the impact of each vote counts 10 [or more] times what it would in a high turnout general election," O'Keeffe said in his e-mail. "Make your voice heard. Vote, and do not let it be said that Clayton County citizens don't care."

For more information, such as precinct locations, call the Clayton County Board of Elections and Registration's office at (770) 477-3372.