Huge turnout last week

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent

When Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump squared off last Wednesday night for their third and final debate, it was of no use to several thousand voters in Henry County.

They had already voted.

Citizens went to the polls in unprecedented numbers in the first week that early voting was available in the county, according to the elections office.

Starting with 2,008 ballots recorded the first day, a total of 12,828 voters went to the polls for the week, including 1,389 during Saturday voting, elections and registration director Tina Lunsford stated.

That is an average of more than 200 per hour, but even though the elections office has moved in the past year to a new location on the northwest corner of the Square due to structural problems at the Phillips Drive facility, the staff has adjusted well and kept things moving along with a great deal of efficiency.

“The longest anyone had to spend from start to finish was 30 minutes,” said Lunsford. “A few people told me they drove by but didn’t stop because of the lines outside, but I told them everyone is moving though very quickly. We are getting people in and out.”

This is by far the busiest they have ever been at this stage in an election, but it wasn’t entirely unexpected.

“We knew it was going to be like this,” said Lunsford. “We just didn’t know how it was going to flow with the facility we’re in.”

This week early voting opportunities are offered again in McDonough as well as the Merle Manders Conference Center in Stockbridge. Polls will be open this Saturday and Sunday at those locations in addition to weekday hours.

Next week, voters will have five places to choose from: Fairview, Hampton and Locust Grove libraries as well as to the two existing locations.

A total of 153,268 Henry Countians are registered to vote in this election. Lunsford said “well over 20,000” have registered this year. Many of them have been county residents for up to three years but did not bother to vote in the 2014 elections, she added.

In the 2014 general election 64,192 ballots were cast in Henry County. Nearly half of them came to the polls during early voting (29,778) with 1,305 casting ballots on the first two days.

For the last presidential election in 2012, a whopping 91,700 voters showed up, making for a 75.4 percent turnout of 123,177 registered voters. The early voting total that year was 59,846 - almost two-thirds of the total turnout.

That year 46,774 voted for Republican nominee Mitt Romney while 43,761 voted for President Barack Obama in his bid for re-election. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson got 813 votes and another 183 write-in votes were tallied in the presidential race.

Lunsford said her office has not received as many absentee ballot requests as anticipated. The usual requests came from military personnel and a few others, but even though a Georgia voter does not need an official reason to get an absentee ballot, many people are deciding not to go in that direction because voting electronically in person can be much easier than filling out a ballot at home with a pencil.

“We’ve had a number of people bring in their absentee ballots and surrender them so they can vote in person,” she said.