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About 9 percent of Gainesville voters turn out
Gary Funk gets a voting card Tuesday from poll worker Louise Owen at the Georgia Mountains Center. - photo by Tom Reed

About 9 percent of Gainesville voters cast ballots in this year’s election, said Hall County Elections Superintendent Charlotte Sosebee. That falls short of the projected turnout of 25 percent.

Of the nearly 11,000 Gainesville voters, just more than 1,000 voted this cycle. There were 250 early voters and 17 absentee voters, Sosebee said.

She said, however, the 9.22 percent turnout was better than the 2007 off-year election where only 3.76 percent of Gainesville voters showed up at the polls. She said she suspects the referendums on electing the city mayor and city board of education chairman may have played a role.

"I’m thinking possibly the referendums brought out more people," Sosebee said. "Then it may have a difference in the fact that we just had a big election year in 2008. It may be people are still election excited, so to speak."

Sosebee said the Hall County Elections Office will certify the outcome of this election Friday when a few provisional ballots could be added. She said if a voter had a problem with their name not being on a registered voter list, for example, the elections office has until Thursday evening to determine if the vote is legitimate.

"I was surprised at the very low turnout," City Councilman George Wangemann said. "That part didn’t make me too happy. I don’t like it when just a few voters decide on important matters like the elected mayor."

At the Gainesville Civic Center, five people were waiting to vote on a contested school board race and two referendums. By 10 a.m., nearly 80 people had voted.

"It’s better than I expected," poll manager Tom Durrett said of the steady morning turnout. For a municipal election with low expectations for voter turnout, seeing folks waiting for the polls to open "was unusual," Durrett said.

A few miles away at the Georgia Mountains Center, no one was waiting to vote when the polls opened, and the three voting stations set up were seldom all in use. By 3 p.m., only 89 people had cast votes at the Mountains Center.

"I was hoping it would be a lot more," poll manager Pat Rail said.

Several people who did show up to vote at the Mountains Center complained about parking and access to the building, which is surrounded by a maze of chain-link fence while work on a new parking deck continues behind schedule.

"We had a few people upset about it," Rail said.

At the Civic Center, Ron Gerrell stopped by to vote for his friend Kellie Weeks in the Gainesville Board of Education race. Gerrell said he was making last-minute decisions on referendum questions about elected mayor and school board chairman.

"I was still mulling it over on the way over here," Gerrell said.

Sally Kirchner stood on the curb outside of the Civic Center with one child in hand, one child on knee, and one child darting across the street, but she still made the effort to vote.

"Yes it was a lot for me to come out (and vote), I have to say there were a lot of moments where I thought I shouldn’t do it, but I did," she said.

A.D. Watson, also voting at the Civic Center, had made up his mind ahead of time.

"I think the citizens should have the right to vote for the mayor," Watson said. He said he was also interested in the school board election "because of some the problems they’ve had over the last two or three years."

There was a slow trickle of voters coming into Clermont town hall to vote on a city council election, with 85 people casting votes by mid-afternoon.

"It’s about what we expected," Clermont Assistant City Clerk Amy Lomax said.

In Lula, voter turnout was "moderate" for a city council and mayoral race, City Clerk Rosemary Totty said.

"They’re not beating down the door or anything," Totty said. By 9:30 a.m., 43 Lula residents had cast votes. Totty predicted the largest number of people would vote after work late in the afternoon.

In Flowery Branch, city clerk Melissa McCain echoed those sentiments.

"We figure 5 o’clock will be the big rush," McCain said.

At 9:30 a.m., Flowery Branch had 57 votes cast. By 4:30 p.m., the count was up to 287.

Like all the other polling places in Hall County, no glitches were reported.

"So far so good," McCain said, adding that a representative of the Georgia Secretary of State’s office stopped by for a routine audit Tuesday and "said we were doing a good job."

Staff members Stephen Gurr, Jessica Jordan, Ashley Fielding and Coulter Burch contributed to this story.