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Officials predict low turnout for today's primary runoff
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Mark Staley, left, precinct manager for the Friendship II precinct, and Vonda Edwards of the Hall County Elections Office check the equipment that will be used at the precinct located at Friendship Elementary School during the runoff election today. - photo by Tom Reed

If history is a guide, only a small fraction of Georgia’s 4.7 million voters will go to the polls in today’s runoff election.

Statewide, Democrats will decide whether Vernon Jones or Jim Martin will face Republican U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss.

There is no statewide Republican race on the runoff ballot.

In Hall County, Republicans will decide who will be the next clerk of court. The contest between Charles Baker and Jennifer Gibbs is the final hurdle as there is no Democratic challenger.

Charlotte Sosebee-Hunter, interim director of elections in Hall County, is predicting an 8 percent turnout for the runoff. Last week, 1,183 voters cast early ballots in Hall.

In Dawson County, there is no Republican runoff, and only 25 Democrats voted in early balloting for the Senate race.

However, several counties, including Forsyth, Jackson and Habersham have higher profile GOP races that are likely to bring more voters out today.

Forsyth and Jackson both have county commission posts to be decided, while the incumbent sheriff in Habersham is in a runoff. Also in several Northeast Georgia counties, voters will decide the hotly contested race for the 50th State Senate District.

The incumbent, Nancy Schaefer, finished second on July 15 to Habersham County Commission Chairman Jim Butterworth. Schaefer, who first announced she was running for Congress before getting back into the race for her seat, has been criticized for mailers claiming endorsement from the National Rifle Association and Gov. Sonny Perdue. Both the NRA and Perdue have made it clear they’re not involved in the race.

The statewide Democratic contest for U.S. Senate has been a lackluster, low-budget affair.

Both Democrats were engaged in a furious final blitz of campaigning Monday to get their voters back to the polls today.

Jones was on the air in a flurry of radio and television interviews Monday. He also shook hands at a senior citizens center and capped off the day off with a rally for campaign volunteers at his headquarters. Martin spent the day on the phone with supporters and walked around some Atlanta neighborhoods urging residents to get out and vote.

Turnout was a measly 18 percent in the July 15 primary where Jones

and Martin emerged as the top vote getters in the five-man Democratic race.

Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel isn’t issuing a turnout prediction for today, but it’s widely expected to plunge into the single digits.

The last major statewide runoff — the 2004 Democratic contest for the U.S. Senate — drew just 6 percent of registered voters to the polls.

Martin, a former state lawmaker, is no stranger to a low-turnout statewide runoff. In 2006, he won a runoff for lieutenant governor in a race where just 5.3 percent of registered voters came to the polls. He went on to lose to Republican Casey Cagle of Hall County in the general election.

Local runoff races today could create pockets where participation is higher. One of them, the DeKalb County chief executive runoff, would seem likely to benefit Jones, who’s leaving that post after eight years. But Jones, who is seeking to become Georgia’s first black U.S. senator, failed to win more than 50 percent of votes there in July’s five-person race, suggesting to some that support on his home turf may be soft.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Georgians must present a valid, government-issued photo ID. Voters need not have cast a ballot in the July 15 primary to vote today. But if they did vote on July 15, they must select the same party in the runoff.

An aide to Chambliss said he would watch the returns with his wife, Julianne, in Atlanta tonight. He’s planning to bombard the airwaves statewide with his first re-election ad once his opponent is selected.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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