Election turnout lighter than expected

COVINGTON - Voter turnout in Georgia was lighter than expected and Newton County was no exception.

About 76 percent of active registered voters cast ballots in Tuesday's presidential election. The total number of ballots cast was 41,574, according to unofficial results from the Newton County Board of Elections Office. That's less than the 2004 presidential election, when 78 percent of voters turned out.

Statewide, about 74 percent of active voters cast ballots, compared to 77 percent in 2004, according to the Secretary of State's Office.

The lion's share of voting in Newton County took place in the six weeks leading up to the election, with 46 percent voting during that time period. Given the high turnout for early voting, Board of Elections Chairman Hugh Steele had predicted that total turnout could exceed 90 percent.

Lines on Election Day were short for the most part, according to Steele. Some people were waiting in line when the polls opened at 7 a.m., but that's typical for a presidential election, he said.

"The lines were nowhere near where they were during the last presidential election," he said, adding that early voting "had a major effect" on Election Day wait time.

There were no problems more serious than a few voters going to the wrong precinct, Steele said, adding they were directed to the proper polling place.

The most closely contested local race was between sheriff's candidates Lt. Ezell Brown and Lt. Bill Watterson. Democrat Brown beat Watterson by 62 votes, or .15 percent.

According to the Georgia Election Code, if less than 1 percent separates two candidates, the losing candidate may ask for a recount within two days following certification of election results, which likely won't be complete until Friday, according to the Board of Elections.

Watterson could not be reached to comment on whether he plans to seek a recount.

In any case, Georgia voters have not yet put this election to bed. The U.S. Senate race between Republican Saxby Chambliss and Democrat Jim Martin appears headed for a Dec. 2 runoff, with neither candidate hitting the 50 percent mark. Absentee and overseas ballots are still being counted, and the Secretary of State's Office has said a runoff announcement won't be made until results are certified.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.