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Contested races draw some — but not many — to early voting

POSTED: October 30, 2009 11:41 p.m.

In some towns across Northeast Georgia, early voting for Tuesday’s municipal elections has drawn little interest.

Fewer than 300 people showed up to vote in Gainesville’s school board race and to tell government officials whether they want an elected mayor and an elected school board chairman, said Gainesville City Clerk Denise Jordan.

But Jefferson voters have been turning out in force for contested mayor and City Council seats.

According to city officials, more than 300 ballots were cast during early voting in Jefferson. That is nearly half the city voters who responded to a ballot question during last year’s presidential election, which typically draws a larger crowd than municipal elections.

City officials attribute this year’s high voter turnout to several factors, including population growth that has led to a surge in the number of registered voters.

"In the previous mayoral election, the mayor was unopposed," said Elizabeth McDonald, city clerk and elections superintendent. "This is the first time in eight years that there has been opposition for the position of mayor. These two factors (more registered voters and mayoral opposition) have driven the increase in participation."

Early voting closed Friday, but Jefferson officials expect to have a good showing from the remaining 4,500-plus voters Tuesday.

Turnout in other area towns has barely topped a few dozen voters, despite contested elections.

Flowery Branch City Clerk Melissa McCain said that as of Thursday, only 33 of the town’s 2,894 registered voters had cast ballots in early voting. Six candidates are running for three City Council seats, none of them incumbents.

Still, the low number isn’t surprising, she said.

"We’re still a small enough community that (voters) like to come to the polls and vote," McCain said.

In Clermont, just 24 early voters had cast a ballot by Friday’s deadline. Two candidates there are vying for a seat on City Council.

Tuesday’s turnout is hard to judge. The city has nearly 1,000 more registered voters than two years ago, so based on those numbers alone, there could be a steady stream of folks at City Hall voting machines Tuesday.

On the other hand, it may go slowly.

"It’s been really quiet — not a lot of signs posted for the candidates," she said.

Expect results quickly, regardless, as all votes will be counted at City Hall after the polls close at 7 p.m., McCain said.

The turnout has been about the same in Hoschton, where Election Superintendent Karen Butler said 37 people had participated in early voting as of 1 p.m. Tuesday. Hoschton has 768 active voters in the city, 56 inactive, for a total of 824. Unlike most towns in Hall, Hoschton voters will cast paper ballots.

In Braselton, about 290 of the 4,029 registered voters cast their ballots during the early voting period, Town Manager Jennifer Dees said.

As to turnout on Election Day itself, Dees expects about 1,000 voters to cast votes at the Braselton Police and Municipal Court building.

"I’m anticipating 25 percent, which was lower than we had four years ago but we have more voters this time around," Dees said. "If we get 25 percent, that means we’ll have about one voter per minute during the 12 hours we’re open."

Times reporters Ashley Fielding, Jeff Gill and Brandee Thomas and regional staff reporters Katie Dunn and Claire Miller contributed to this story.



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