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Bill would reduce time to vote early
Hamilton's proposal includes a Saturday
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Forsyth County News


Changes could be coming to Georgia's early voting process.

District 23 state Rep. Mark Hamilton, R-Cumming, recently introduced a bill that would lower the number of early voting days from 45 to 21.

“I talked to a number of people who wanted to make it an even shorter time than that,” Hamilton said. “There were also a lot of people who wanted it at four weeks.

“We felt that if we dropped it to three [weeks], plus a mandatory Saturday, that would address many of the concerns.”

Under Hamilton's proposal, elections offices would be required to hold early voting from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. the second Saturday prior to an election.

Absentee ballots, which include those sent overseas to military personnel would still remain at 45 days.

Forsyth County Elections Supervisor Barbara Luth said she likes the proposal.

“We don’t even mind the Saturday,” she said. “We don’t have very many people the first 15 days [of early voting] anyway.”

During the November 2010 election, nearly 16,500 people voted the week before election day.

But between Sept. 17 and Oct. 22, fewer than 3,200 ballots were cast.

Luth said for a big election like the one expected in 2012, the reduction could save more than $10,000.

“To have sites open and an office open in a real busy election, that means we’ll have extra people here,” she said.

The cost adds up. In personnel alone, the November election cost $40,000, with half of that coming from early and advanced voting.

If approved by the legislature, the U.S. Department of Justice would still need to review the measure to make sure it complies with federal guidelines.

Hamilton said the 2012 election would be a realistic time frame for the proposed change to take effect, though it could be sooner.

“The justice department can happen relatively quickly, within 30 to 60 days, or it could go longer,” he said.

In-person absentee voting has been going on for years, but wasn’t widely used.

Early voters needed a valid excuse to vote prior to an election day until 2008.

Luth said participation has picked up significantly. This past election, about 20 percent of the votes were cast during the early and advanced voting periods. 

Getting to vote 45 days prior to an election, however, has also meant voters could choose a candidate that wasn’t a valid option on election day.

Luth said the secretary of state’s office kept in touch with her and other election offices throughout the state and asked for input.

Hamilton said getting feedback from the state, as well as several election groups, helped shape the compromise of three weeks plus the Saturday.

That Saturday, Hamilton said, would “provide an opportunity for people who, right now, if they can’t get off work during working hours, they’ll have this as an option.”

“We really want to open it up for people to vote and a Saturday opens it up to far more people than those four weeks that we’re eliminating.”

Hamilton said lowering election costs for counties and cities was among the top goals of the bill.

“This is a great time to do it because so many taxpayers are having difficulties as well as their respective counties and cities,” he said. “So it really is an effort to relieve the tax burden on the citizens, while providing a good, efficient way for them to cast their ballots.”