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Stakes high in runoff
Early voting draws nearly 15,000 here
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Forsyth County News

At a glance

* All 33 precincts will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday

* Forsyth County residents registered to vote on or before Oct. 6 can vote in the runoff election, even if they didn't vote during the presidential election Nov. 4.

* Contact: (770) 781- 2118 or go online at

Voter IDs

One of six valid state or federal government-issued photo identification cards is required to vote in person Tuesday.

Accepted IDs include a Georgia driver's license (even if expired), valid U.S. passport, government- issued employee, military or tribal identification cards, or a valid Georgia voter ID card will be accepted for in-person voters.

Absentee ballots sent by mail do not require photo identification verification. A valid photo ID is also not required to register to vote.

The stakes and attention given the runoff election for U.S. Senate appear to have stirred voter interest in Forsyth County, where nearly 15,000 residents have already cast a ballot.

“I think a lot of people are voting in this election because there is a Senate race,” said Gary J. Smith, the county's election chief. “If there wasn’t a Senate race, turnout would be about 10 percent.”

Smith expects local turnout to be about 25 percent, partly based on the number of people voting early. The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday.

County residents have been able to vote since Nov. 17 for the Dec. 2 election. More than 3,600 did so between Nov. 17 and 21. With another 11,322 votes recorded between Nov. 24 and 26, election totals show.

During the Nov. 4 presidential election, incumbent Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss garnered 49.8 percent of the state’s vote, just shy of the 50 percent plus one needed to claim victory.

Democrat Jim Martin trailed by 3 percent, but Libertarian candidate Allen Buckley’s 3.4 percent blocked either candidate from a clear win.

Chambliss was the clear favorite in Forsyth County in November, when he received about 75 percent of the vote.
Georgia has one of only two U.S. Senate seats that are still up for grabs.

In Minnesota, incumbent Republican Sen. Norm Coleman leads Democratic challenger Al Franken by 215 votes. But in Minnesota, there will be no runoff, with the state currently in the process of recounting the 2.9 million votes.

For the Democrats to have the 60 seats needed to have filibuster-proof control of the U.S. Senate, both Martin and Franken would need to win.

Smith said more people likely will vote in the Senate runoff because of the historic significance.

“There have been a lot of very high profile people that have already come to Georgia, including [Sen. John] McCain and former President Bill] Clinton,” Smith said. “Those kinds of visits, I would say, are reinvigorating people to vote again.”

Smith said the two other runoffs on the ballot, Public Service Commission and State Court of Appeals, may go unnoticed until voters show up to vote.

Democrat Jim Powell and Republican Lauren W. McDonald Jr. face off for the District 4 Public Service Commission seat. Both received less than 48 percent of the vote, thanks to Libertarian Brandon Givens' 4.9 percent.

Powell led McDonald, a former longtime state legislator in Forsyth County, by seven tenths of a percent.

Less of a surprise was the runoff race for State Court of Appeals judge, a nonpartisan race.

With seven candidates vying for the seat, it was unlikely one person would secure a majority.

Sara Doyle and Mike Sheffield, who received 22.5 and 20.9 percent of the vote, respectively, face off in the runoff.

Smith said the cost of the runoff election to Forsyth County may be as high as $30,000. Just ordering 15,000 paper absentee ballots at 50 cents apiece accounts for a quarter of the anticipated cost.

Many of those paper absentee ballots, however, will go unused due to a simple oversight.

A mailer, sent and paid for by the Georgia Republican Party, encouraged voters to request a paper absentee ballot.

The mailer was essentially a postcard voters could send to their respective elections offices asking for a ballot.

While not an uncommon tactic, the mailer required applicants to sign it, a small detail Smith said has resulted in a large number of incomplete requests.

The signature line is at the bottom of the application and part of the optional section to include an address different from the applicant’s home address.

The placement appeared as if it were a requirement only if the applicant had a different address.

In total, nearly 2,200 requests were rejected and about 1,000 accepted in Forsyth.

While Smith said letters were sent to those with incomplete requests, there’s no guarantee voters will decide to show up in person.

The mix-up could cost Republicans valuable votes, Smith said.

Ethan Underwood, vice chairman of the local Republican Party, said members have been working tirelessly to “contact those folks and let them know that if they don’t get their ballot, or they don’t get it in on time, they have to vote in person or they won't have the opportunity to vote in this runoff.”

“We’re only working in Forsyth County, so we’re concerned as to how this is playing out in other counties in the state,” he said.

Forsyth’s Democrats have been hard at work too, running phone banks to remind voters to cast their ballots for Martin.

“It’s a very, very important runoff, for both Jim Powell and Jim Martin,” said Wilma Turner, vice chair of the Forsyth’s Democratic Party. “We need to get a good senator who is in tune with what’s going on, who is progressive and who wants to do things instead of obstructing progress.”

Despite their efforts, Smith said, it's unlikely local turnout will top 25 percent.

“It’s just been such a long election cycle, voters are just ready for it to be over,” he said.

Staff Writer Frank Reddy contributed to this report.