Smaller turnout expected for municipal elections but impactful items still on ballots

Published: Nov. 1, 2021 at 2:30 PM EDT
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CHATHAM COUNTY, Ga. (WTOC) - Election Day is Tuesday for municipal elections and voters in Chatham County have some decisions to make at the polls.

The turnout for municipal elections is typically smaller than, for example, a presidential election. Chatham County Board of Elections Supervisor Billy Wooten says usually in a municipal election about 10 percent or less of registered voters show up to vote.

However, there are some polling places they expect will have a higher voter turnout than others.

Wooten says the polling locations that’ll have more voters and maybe some lines are going to be the ones in areas with contested races, like the mayoral races in Thunderbolt and Bloomingdale and council seats in Tybee, Garden City, and Port Wentworth.

>>> LINKS: Find your polling location in Georgia, South Carolina

There may be more voters also at the 23 polling locations in the 165th district where people are voting for their new state representative. They are voting to fill the seat of the late Representative Mickey Stephens. This seat is the only state legislature seat being voted on in Georgia.

WTOC spoke with state representatives Carl Gilliard and Ron Stephens about how our state representatives play a vital role in the lives of citizens.

“That is a very important district. That’s a district that is a minority district in a lot of respects. It’s also quite diverse, democrats and republicans,” said Rep. Gilliard.

District 162 Representative Carl Gilliard says it’s imperative that folks in the 165th district get out and vote. He says a state representative has the ability to bring big changes to the area you call home.

“Taxes, being able to reform laws, write new laws,” he said.

Five candidates qualified to run. Former Savannah Mayor Edna Jackson, former Chatham County Board of Elections member Antwan Lang, Clinton Young, Clinton Cowart and Sabrina Greene-Kent.

“His replacement is going to be key for our whole delegation,” said Rep. Stephens.

District 164 Representative Ron Stephens says whoever wins will be part of state-wide redistricting, unless the race goes to a runoff.

“It’s getting down to crunch time. These committees that this person will be assigned to has to do a tax policy that has to do with your wallet and it also has to do with the right kind of incentives that we get down for the ports and Gulfstream and everybody else that creates jobs,” Rep. Stephens said.

Wooten says about 60 of the polling locations only have one item on the ballot, which is ESPLOST.

“At the vast majority of our polls, 2/3 of our polls, there’s only one item and so there will not be lines at those polls. You’ll be able to vote quickly, it’s a yes or no question and you’ll be in and out of the poll very quickly,” Wooten said.

Wooten also says COVID-19 precautions will be in place including encouraging people to wear masks while voting. Masks will be required for poll workers.

The polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wooten says the busiest times are usually in the first two hours and in the last two hours of the day.

As a reminder, you must have a valid ID to vote. Wooten encourages people to check their polling locations and registration status before going to vote.

Chatham Co. Board of Elections prepares for Election Day

Municipal election preparations are underway in Chatham County.

“We’ve kind of predicted coming out of COVID that we’ll have more in-person voting,” said Chatham County Board of Elections Vice Chair Malinda Hodge. “And a lot of the changes were a bit of a deterrent for some people to participate in advance voting and voting by mail.”

Those changes Hodge mentioned are from Georgia’s voting law passed earlier this year. You may have noticed an absentee drop box missing from outside of the Board of Elections Office, That’s because the law only allows absentee drop boxes inside of early voting locations. They also can only be used during voting hours.

On election day, you also won’t see people giving out food and water to voters in line - if that does happen, the law says those people could be charged with a misdemeanor.

The Elections Supervisor says many Chatham County residents may not even see a line at a majority of polling locations Tuesday.

“We’ve got 61 or 62 polls that only have one item on the ballot and that’s the ESPLOST vote,” said Elections Supervisor Billy Wooten. “At the vast majority of the polls, at two-thirds of our polls, there’s only one item.”

However Hodge says they are prepared for a large turnout, and expect people to vote in person especially for the 165th seat once held by the late Mickey Stephens.

“It’s a critical seat for the city of Savannah,” said Hodge. “It comes with a lot of influence within our local community and within our statewide community. It’s critical who live in the 165th come out and decide who they want to continue Mickey’s tenure.”

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