Early Voters Flock to the Polls in Athens, Ga.
Most people made up their minds long ago, says one voter.
Although some claim that early voting is a bad idea because it shortens campaigns, early voters who braved the rainy weather in Athens Monday morning argued that it increases voter turnout. They were unimpressed by arguments to the contrary.
Early voting began Monday at 8 a.m. at the Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections office on Washington Street. Steady rainfall dampened banners announcing the start of the election, but not the spirits of numerous Clarke County residents, primarily elderly people, who lined up on the sidewalk.
“You already have your mind made up. Why don’t you just go ahead and cast your vote?” Terry Turner asked rhetorically. The retired schoolteacher made it clear that no amount of campaigning would make him change his decision.
“I think their mind is pretty much already made up,” Pauline Barnett said about the opening day crowd. She volunteers at the Board of Elections Office and plans to vote early herself.
“You can see where a person’s heart’s from, you know, and if they’re steady in what they say, you know, go with them, but if they change just because the wind change, I have a real problem with that,” said Turner. He believes the character of the candidate determines the outcome of the election, not how one performs in debates.
“Believe me, I’ve heard all negatives. My thing of it is, it’s time now for a positive, for everybody,” said Ree Stovall, denouncing the endless stream of negative campaigning she’s heard.
“You’re inundated with it (campaign messages) 24/7,” said Brandon Fris, an academic advisor at UGA and one of few young voters who showed up for the first hour of early voting. He doesn’t believe early voting hurts campaigns and says it’s impossible for any major momentum shifts to happen this late.
However, he considers himself politically aware rather than active. He didn’t grow up in a very political family, but has become more interested in civic affairs as a result of his education.
“We’ve had plenty of time for campaigns, almost two years,” said Sharon Nickols, a housing and consumer economics professor at UGA, “It (early voting) helps my schedule, it helps me be more responsible as a citizen.”
Since the general election in 2000 and expansion of voting options, Clarke County has seen an increase in voter turnout from 69 percent of registered voters in the 2000 general election to 76.8 percent in the 2008 general election.
With the addition of Saturday voting this election cycle, voter turnout has the potential to increase even more. Nationally, more than 30 percent of voters took advantage of early voting opportunities in 2008, up from 20 percent in 2004.
“I think you get a better turnout with this early voting,” said Barnett, the volunteer.
“I don’t like waiting,” said Stovall, “Voting early, I couldn’t wait. I’ll be honest with you, I couldn’t wait.”