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Low turnout surprises Hall elections staff
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In three weeks, Hall County taxpayers will foot a $45,000 bill for a projected 2,500 voters to go to the polls. That’s about $18 a voter.

On Tuesday, the cost was about $4.50 per voter.

A dismal turnout on Tuesday came as a surprise to Hall County elections officials, but there is little they can do. They have to set up the same number of voting machines, print an adequate number of absentee ballots, pay rent for polling places and pay poll workers.

On Aug. 5, the county’s polling places will be open once again, and typically about 25 percent of those who voted Tuesday will return to the polls for the runoff. If the trend holds, that would be a 3.2 percent turnout of Hall County’s 80,524 registered voters.

While the taxpayers will pay to have polls open, candidates must attempt to fill their campaign coffers with enough money to bring out their supporters.

For Jennifer Gibbs, the top vote-getter in the race for clerk of court, the only runoff race on the Republican side in Hall, the cost of her 3,553 votes was about $5.18 a vote, based on her spending through the end of June.

The contest for clerk of court, generally not a high profile race, saw combined expenditures of $30,000 for the top two candidates through June 30, the date of the most recent financial reports.

Contrast that with a countywide race for the state Senate two years ago. By the June 30, 2006, reporting period, the top two candidates had spent nearly $180,000.

Gibbs, who will face Charles Baker in the runoff, has raised the most money, but also has the most debt. She and her husband, Scott, loaned the campaign $11,000. She raised an additional $13,060 as of June 30.

Baker loaned his campaign $7,173 and raised an additional $10,481 in the same period.

The candidates varied in their campaign style. Baker’s largest expenditures were for such things as emery boards, signs and T-shirts.

Gibbs spent $12,430 with Thomas Sandoval, her campaign consultant. The charges included both campaign expenses and Sandoval’s consulting fee.

Raising money is not easy in lower profile races.

Gibb’s largest contribution was $1,000 from her campaign treasurer, Miles Coker. She received $500 contributions from Lewis Coker, Utili-Com South, Vickie White, Sanford Loef, Strickland & Sons Pipeline Co., Clint Presley, Randy Smith and Helen Gibbs, all of Hall County. She received a $500 contribution from Jonathan Pope of Canton.

Baker’s contributions came largely in amounts less than $101, which do not have to be identified. He received contributions of $500 each from Hugh Turk, Horace Allison and Jimmy Trotman.

Bob Vass, the former sheriff and third place finisher in the race, had raised $12,085 as of June 30. Vass’ largest contributions were $1,000 each from Walters Acceptance, Allen Wayne and Jack Chapman. Vass, as of the June 30 report, did not contribute any of his own funds to the campaign.

Hall County’s Tuesday turnout of 10,543 voters, or 14.26 percent of the county’s voters, came without a strong top-of-the-ticket race either statewide or locally.

The lone local Democratic contest, a county commission race between Ashley Bell and incumbent Deborah Mack, was decided by 856 voters.

That compares with 2,868 in the Republican contest between Billy Powell and Chris Masters for another county commission post.

Turnout on Tuesday largely was driven by local races. In Lumpkin County, a hotly contested sheriff’s race, an open contest for county commission chairman and a party challenge to a veteran state representative brought 46 percent of the voters to the polls.

In Habersham and Banks County, where there were major races for several county offices, including sheriff, 36 percent of the voters cast ballots in each of the counties.

"Our primaries have become less attractive to voters," said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia. "The most we’ve had was four years ago when 1.4 million voters showed up."

Bullock said that some voters feel that Georgia has become a two-party state, although in some areas it is basically one party.

"In many parts of the state, the primary decides the election, just like it did when we were a smaller, Democratic state," he said.

"Some voters feel that this is just the preliminaries and they’re going to wait for the finals. But for many of the contests, the finals were yesterday (Tuesday)."