November 6th’s Election Night is in the rearview mirror, but there’s no time to rest for the state’s election offices. Voting broke midterm participation records across the state, and there are upcoming runoffs for at least two statewide positions as the specter of the ongoing battle for Governor looms.
Fayette County Director of Elections Floyd Jones knew to expect a big turnout, but there was no way to tell just how big it would be.
“We had an incredible turnout,” he said. “We’ve heard about lines we had, and that’s a good thing.”
In Fayette, there were 58,065 ballots cast for the statewide election this year. In the 2014 midterm elections, that number was 42,611 ballots, representing a 36 percent increase over a 2014 turnout that WSB-TV said was record breaking.
“That’s an incredible jump, absolutely incredible.”
Numbers even compare closely with the 2016 Presidential Election that saw 61,766 ballots cast.
“We essentially ran a Presidential election with Governor’s staffing, machinery, and budget,” said Jones.
In terms of workload for the elections office, if you compile the total number of ballots cast in the county, with Peachtree City and Fayetteville residents able to cast a different ballot on a municipal measure, it actually outpaces both 2014 and 2016 at 80,139 aggregate ballots.
Fayette County voter participation ranks in the top four percent of Georgia’s 159 counties, with just six counties reporting a higher turnout. Of 89,763 registered voters in Fayette, 58,065 cast a vote for a 69.32 percent turnout. The highest percentage in the state came from Taliaferro County where 77.13 percent of their 1,211 registered voters cast a ballot.
Even more impressive is that Fayette has far and away the biggest population among the highest performers. The six counties ahead of Fayette in voter participation combine for just 48,299 total registered voters.
Lines were much longer than normal at many precincts, and Jones said he heard complaints from Brooks in particular, where waits hit 90 minutes or more at times. It’s not a simple fix to respond to delays on election day, though. Voting machines have to be retrieved from the elections trailer, tested, brought back to the office to be updated, and then two workers have to be found to take it to the precinct for setup. With all hands already on deck around the county, a quick turnaround wasn’t an option.
For many elections, early voting is a prime option to avoid long lines, but this year it was extremely popular.
“Lines were wrapping from our door all the way down the hall, and on the last day it stretched down the stairs and around the building.”
It’s also tough to adjust projections based on early voting.
“When you have a crazy turnout for early voting, you have to ask yourself are those numbers cannibalizing who will show up on election day?” he said. “Maybe we stack up more machines and find out only five people show up.”
Ultimately they had to give it their best guess, projecting turnout based on 2014’s record-breaking numbers.
“We sat around the table with those that were here in 2014 and said what are your needs, what do you predict,” he said. “They gave me what they needed, and it worked out for a majority of them, and some of them we’ll have to readdress.”
While the still-unsettled race for Governor grabs national headlines, that battle is not even top of mind in Jones’s office. While his office and that of the other 158 counties await word from the state, they all have to prepare for the December 4 runoff races for Secretary of State and a Public Service Commission seat on a very compacted schedule.
By state law, early voting has to be provided, but the state hasn’t certified results from Nov. 6 yet, and ballots cannot go out until that is done. With Thanksgiving taking away two days of preparation, timing will be minimal to get ready, even with turnout typically low for runoffs around the holidays.
“There may not be anyone to show up, but you just don’t know given this political atmosphere,” he said. “All I know is we’ve got to get ready for this.”
For Jones, the bottom line is simple. Long lines and big vote totals might bring stress, but he is excited to see so many exercise their right to vote.
“I would prefer to have more people vote than not.”