More than a quarter of Oconee County’s registered voters have cast ballots in the first 11 days of early voting.
On Friday, 927 persons voted to the office of the Board of Elections and Registration at 10 Court Street across from the Courthouse in Watkinsville, the highest number since early voting started on Oct. 17.
While the turnout has been brisk, the number of voters on Friday would have to be repeated each day this week for early voting to reach the level of early voting in 2012. The last day of early voting is Friday.
Early voting would have to pick up substantially this week to match the level of early voting in 2008.
No Comparative Data
Pat Hayes, director of the Board of Elections and Registration, said her office does not have day-to-day voting records for earlier elections.
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At the end of early voting in the presidential election in 2012, 42.0 percent of the county’s registered voters already had cast a ballot.
In 2008, that figure was 52.7 percent.
That means that 52.2 percent of those who voted in 2012 cast a ballot in early voting, while 62.4 percent of those who voted in 2008 cast an early ballot.
Early voting procedures have varied across the elections.
In 2012, for example, voting took place at the Civic Center during the final five days of early voting.
This year, voting will take place only at the Board of Election office in Watkinsville, as a cost saving measure.
The total vote shown in the chart above is two greater than the sum of the individual days, reflecting a slight discrepancy in the figures given me each day by Hayes and her running total.
Little suspense exists for most of the county’s local elections.
Only one candidate’s name appears on the ballot for the District Attorney for the Western Judicial Circuit, the Clerk of Superior Court, Sheriff, Tax Commissioner and Coroner.
John Daniell is running unopposed for the chair position on the Board of Commissioners, and Mark Thomas is running unopposed for Post 1 on the Commission.
Incumbent Commissioner Mark Saxon is unopposed for Post 4.
Tom Odom, Tim Burgess and Wayne Bagley are all unopposed for the Board of Education.
Sen. Bill Cowsert and Rep. Chuck Williams and Rep. Regina Quick also are unopposed.
The top of the ballot is of keen interest, of course, but it would be surprising if Republican Donald Trump did not win in Oconee County.
Mitt Romney got 73.6 percent of the vote in 2012, and John McCain got 70.8 percent four years earlier.
Trump carried the county narrowly in the March presidential primary, with 31.4 percent of the vote.
Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson got 75.4 percent of the Oconee County vote when he ran for election in 2010.
Jody Hice is unopposed on the Nov. 8 ballot for Congress. The Republican does have Write-In opposition in Leonard Ware, but the Gwinnett County Democrat has not campaigned here.
No opposition has surfaced to the two Sunday sale of alcohol referenda on the ballot or to the Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.
In 2014, Oconee County voters overwhelmingly approved liquor-by-the-drink in area restaurants, with 65.5 percent casting a “yes” vote. It seems likely Sunday sales will get majority support as well.
Every educational SPLOST (formerly referred to as ELOST) on the ballot since the first in 1997 has been approved in Oconee County.
In 2011, Oconee County voters approved the Educational SPLOST with 71.4 percent of those voting checking “Yes” on the ballot.
In 2012, Oconee County voters decided against an amendment to the state Constitution that gave the state more control over charter schools, with 52.0 percent opposed and 48.0 percent in favor.
In the state as a whole, 58.6 percent favored the amendment, while 41.4 percent opposed.
If that vote is any predictor, Oconee County voters will vote against Amendment 1 this year, which gives the state the right to take over chronically failing schools. The state would be able to use local revenue and other resources to run those schools.
Special BOC Election
The most hotly contested local race is for Post 2 on the Board of Commissioners.
The post is open because Commissioner Daniell resigned in March to run for the BOC Chair position, replacing retiring Chair Melvin Davis.
Ben Bridges, 50, is a life-long resident of the county and has focused in the campaign on his “Old Oconee” connections as well as his role as the voice of the Oconee County High School football team.
Chuck Horton, 62, has focused on his experience in his two terms on the Board of Education and two terms on the Board of Commissioners in his campaign. He has lived in the county for 36 years.
Marcus Wiedower, 41, who has lived in Oconee County for 10 years, has focused on his youthfulness, his involvement in the schools, and his insights as a custom home builder in making the case for his selection by voters.
Historically, ties to “Old Oconee,” that is, families that have been in the county for a long time, are a crucial part of local elections.
But the development community also is extremely important.
Bridges would seem to have the advantage with the "Old Oconee" vote.
Wiedower has the support of the development community, his campaign finance report shows.
In the May Republican primary, Mark Saxon and Mark Thomas, who represent both of those constituencies, won handily in defeating challengers Penny Mills and Sarah Bell, respectively.
Thomas got 72.3 percent of the vote, and Saxon got 72.4 percent.
But that was a primary and a low turnout one at that, and Thomas actually only got 4,315 votes, while Saxon got 4,397.
Turnout in 2008 and 2012
In 2012, Oconee County had 22,362 voters, and 80.0 percent of them, 17,889, turned out to vote either early or on election day.
In 2008, Oconee County had 20,397 voters, and 84.4 percent of them, or 17,208, voted early or on election day.
At present, Oconee County has 27,845 voters, so 80.0 percent of those would be 22,276 voters, and 84.4 percent would be 23,501 voters.
So if Bridges or Wiedower or Horton got only the 4,397 votes that Saxon got, they would not win on Nov. 8.
Half of 22,276 votes would be 11,138, or 6,741 more votes than Saxon got.
Not all those who go to the polls cast a ballot in each race, of course.
Status Quo Or Critic?
Thomas and Saxon ran as proponents of the status quo in the May primary, while Mills and Bell ran as critics of the current Commission.
Each of the three candidates for the Post 2 position has offered criticism of the current Commission, though Wiedower’s stance has been more nuanced.
In questions I asked about three recent rezones that stirred public opposition, for example, Wiedower was largely supportive of Commission votes.
Horton was critical in all three cases.
Bridges said he needed more information in two of them before he could made a decision.
If none of the three candidates gets a majority of the votes on Nov. 8, the county will hold a runoff on Dec. 6.