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Officials expect runoff, high number of absentee ballots

FOREST PARK — Elections Superintendent Charity Woods predicts a runoff in the Nov. 5 election and expects a record number of absentee ballots to be turned in.

There are 11 candidates vying for three seats — mayor and wards 1 and 2. To take the seat outright, the winner must garner 50 percent of the vote plus one.

“We’re predicting a runoff based on the number of candidates,” she said. “In the spring, we had more people vote in the runoff than in the special election and that’s extremely, extremely rare.”

One candidate has asked about withdrawing but has not filled out the paperwork to do so, said Woods.

With more than a month to go before Election Day, one candidate has turned in more than 100 absentee ballots from prospective voters. There are about 8,000 registered voters in Forest Park.

Any voter can request an application for an absentee ballot, fill it out and return it. Each application is faxed to the Clayton County Elections Office for verification. An application can be rejected if county officials determine the voter doesn’t live in Forest Park or has sent in more than one application.

In exchange, the city mails back a ballot for completion. The ballots must be returned to city hall and are not counted until Election Day.

The law previously restricted the use of absentee ballots to the voters unable to get to the polls in their districts on Election Day such as the elderly, college students, people traveling or service men and women, said Woods. However, the law changed.

“We cannot deny anyone an application for an absentee ballot,” she said.

But more and more candidates are using the absentee ballot as a campaign strategy.

“It is a legal strategy,” said Woods. “A lot of candidates are going out there and pushing applications for absentee ballots.”

By law, no one can interfere with the voting process and every voter is entitled to cast a secret ballot without pressure — or the promise of favors — from a candidate.

“We don’t need anyone to feel intimidated or frustrated,” she said.

Applications can also be downloaded from the county’s website through a link to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office. Advanced voting, another way to avoid lines on Election Day, starts Oct. 15 and ends Nov. 1. Forest Park residents have until Oct. 7 to register for the Nov. 5 election.

Several people have contacted Clayton News Daily about someone going door to door asking for Social Security numbers in connection with voting. However, Woods said those complaints have not reached her.

“That would be completely unacceptable,” she said. “Anyone who has had that happen needs to report it immediately.”

In fact, Woods said she has received no complaints at all from voters.

“It’s been quiet,” she said. “It sounds like candidates are getting out there and campaigning. We’re hoping things run as smoothly as possible.”

The voting machines will be tested Oct. 8 to ensure accuracy.

Anyone with concerns about the Forest Park election process should contact Woods at 404-366-4720.