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Early primary voting forces choices between Democratic, GOP races
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A pile of stickers awaits voters Monday afternoon at the Hall County Elections Office. Early voting is under way at the offices on Browns Bridge Road in the old Wal-Mart center.

For years, Georgia voters have been able to make their choice of voting in a Democratic or Republican primary. Voters here do not register as Republican or Democrats but must decide between the ballots of the two parties in primaries.

Sounds simple, but every couple of years a few voters get confused. This year, voters in Hall County’s commission District 4 must decide between a vote for the candidates seeking that office on the Democratic ballot and voting for contested county offices on the Republican ballot.

The Democratic race between incumbent Deborah Mack and challenger Ashley Bell is the only local race on the party ballot. There is no Republican challenger, and the primary is tantamount to election.

The only statewide races on the Democratic ballot are for U.S. Senate and the Georgia Public Service Commission.

The Hall County Republican ballot offers voters a chance to decide the races for tax commissioner, clerk of superior court and probate judge. The three races generally are lackluster competitions, but are at the top of the ballot in 2008.

Incumbent Tax Commissioner Keith Echols is being challenged by J.C. Smith. An open seat for clerk has Charles Baker, Jennifer Gibbs and former Hall County Sheriff Bob Vass vying for the position. Probate Judge Patti Cornett is facing Dan Sammons in the Republican race.

In Hall County Commission District 2, incumbent Billy Powell is facing Chris Masters in the primary.

Those offices have no Democratic challenger in November, so the race will be decided on July 15.

Statewide, the GOP ballot has two contested seats on the Public Service Commission.

Charlotte Sosebee-Hunter, who heads Hall County’s elections, said there was little confusion among the 260 voters who cast early ballots on Monday at the county elections office on Browns Bridge Road.

But candidate Ashley Bell said that telling voters they must choose between party ballots has been a major part of his campaign message to the electorate.

"It’s very confusing," said Bell, who said voters are perplexed as to why they can’t vote in his race and for other county offices.

Mack, the incumbent, said she was not aware of any problems, although she had asked some of her Republican friends to cross over and vote for her.

Matt Carrothers, a spokesman for Secretary of State Karen Handel, who supervises Georgia’s elections, said he believes voters understand the partisan balloting.

"We don’t receive many questions on that issue," Carrothers said. "Georgia voters know the process and know they have to request a party ballot for primary elections."

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