A total of 4,798 voters cast ballots in early voting that ended today (Friday) for the special elections for Georgia House District 117 and Georgia House District 119.
House District 117, which includes parts of Barrow, Clarke, Jackson and Oconee counties, had 2,165 voters, while House District 119, split equally between Clarke and Oconee counties, had 2,633 votes cast.
Turnout prior to regular voting on Nov. 7 reflects only 5.7 percent of the 38,057 active and inactive voters in the 117th and 7.0 percent of the 37,438 active and inactive voters in the 119th, meaning that many more voters yet could participate in the elections.
If the Dec. 6, 2016, special runoff election for an Oconee County Board of Commissioners post serves as a guide, the votes cast in early voting would represent about 40 percent of those eventually cast.
Only one race was on that Dec. 6, 2016, ballot, similar to what is true in almost all of Oconee County for the Tuesday special election.
That would mean that the final vote tally will be about 5,200 in the 117th and about 6,330 in the 119th.
If these rough guesses are correct, Republican Houston Gaines or Democrat Deborah Gonzalez will need only a little more than 2,600 votes to win in the 117th.
The top vote getter among Tom Lord, Steven Strickland, Jonathan Wallace and Marcus Wiedower in the 119th could have as few as about 1,600 votes.
Lord, Strickland and Wiedower are Republicans, while Wallace is a Democrat. Unless one of the four gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two will meet in a runoff on Dec. 5.
Guessing About Turnout
Estimating turnout in any election is difficult, and the peculiar nature of the special elections on Tuesday makes projections mostly guesswork.
The special elections are to fill the unexpired terms of Regina Quick and Chuck Williams, both Republicans.
Quick stepped down from the 117th to assume a judgeship, and Williams stepped down in the 119th after being appointed as director of the Georgia Forestry Commission.
In Oconee County, the only other issue on the ballot is a contest for a single Council seat in Watkinsville.
In Clarke County, voters are deciding a Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, and voters in Winterville will be deciding city contests.
Voters in Barrow County are voting on renewal of a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, and voters in Statham, parts of which fall into the 117th, have a City Council contest on the ballot.
Voters in the 117th House District in Jackson County have no reason to go to the polls other than to vote on the contest between Gonzalez and Gaines.
Early Voting Totals
Clarke County makes up 56.4 percent of the 117th House District, based on Oct. 1 registration figures for both active and inactive voters. Inactive voters are eligible to vote.
As of 4:30 today, Clarke County had 1,353 votes cast in the 117th House District, 1,213 in the 18th House District, and 1,129 voters in the 119th House District, for a total of 3,695. Voters in the 118th are casting a ballot on the T-SPLOST referendum but have no House race.
Oconee County, which makes up 23.1 percent of the registered voters based on the Oct. 1 registration, had 661 votes cast in the three precincts in the county that are in the 117th District and 1,504 votes cast in the remaining 10 precincts, all of which are in the 119th District.
Barrow County had only 68 voters who are in the 117th cast a ballot, and 573 voters total in early voting.
Jackson County had 83 votes cast in the 117th, out of a total of 1,113 votes in the county in early voting.
Early voting continued through 5 p.m. in all four counties, and only the Oconee County figures are final ones. For Barrow they were through 4:20 p.m. For Jackson, the tally was through 4:25 p.m. For Clarke, it was through 4:30.
The early voting figures include only those who voted in person, not those who cast a ballot via absentee.
The 334 votes cast today (Friday) were the highest during the 16 days of early voting in Oconee County, considerably ahead of the 228 cast on Thursday.
The chart below suggests interest in the election could be rising, meaning turnout could be heavier during voting from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday than during early voting.
|Click To Enlarge|
Oct. 28 was the only Saturday for early voting, and 117 persons cast a ballot, fewer than the day before and the Monday following.
Oconee County had 25,298 active voters as of Oct. 10, the deadline for registration before the special elections. Of those, 2,165 cast a ballot in early voting, or 8.6 percent.
Clarke County had 63,439 active voters as of Oct. 10. The 3,695 who voted by the end of the day today (Friday), represent 5.8 percent.
Competition Between Counties
Both House District 117 and House District 119 were created in the 2011 special redistricting session of the Georgia General Assembly.
The 117th, in an earlier rendition with a different number, had been entirely in Clarke County and had been Democratic.
The 119th, in that earlier rendition, also with a different number, had included all of Oconee County and small parts of Clarke County and had been Republican.
The goal of redistricting by the Republican-dominated legislature had been to create two districts that both would produce Republican legislators, and that is what happened in the 2012 elections.
The special elections underway are the first with Republican and Democratic candidates since redistricting and, as such, they could challenge the Republican gerrymandering.
With strong turnouts in more Democratic Clarke County, it is possible that both seats could swing Democratic.
Focus On Races
At the candidate forum in Oconee County on Oct. 9, the audience thinned noticeably when the program switched to the candidates from the 117th.
The same was true at a second candidate forum in Oconee County on Oct. 17.
That makes sense given that Oconee County makes up less than a quarter of the 117th but half of the 119th. The three precincts in Oconee County in the 117th are Athens Academy, Malcom Bridge, and Bogart.
In a forum in Clarke County on Oct. 23, the reverse happened. The audience thinned when the program shifted to the 119th District.
Yet Clarke County makes up 50.3 percent of the 119th and 56.4 percent of the 117th.
The reactions of the crowds at the candidate forums suggests a sense that the 117th belongs to Clarke County while the 119th belongs to Oconee County.
The tallies and turnout rates at the end of the day on Tuesday will indicate if Clarke voters underplay their hands in the two districts.
Both Gaines and Gonzalez in the 117th are from Clarke County, as was former Representative Quick.
|Athens-Clarke County Part Of House District 117|
Addresses For Gaines, Gonzalez And McKillip In Red
Click To Enlarge
All four of the candidates in the 119th are from Oconee County, as was former Representative Williams.
Gaines is part of an old, established Clarke County family.
His parents live at 250 McWhorter Drive, where Gaines himself was registered to vote until Aug. 23, 2017. The 250 McWhorter Drive address is in the 117th House District.
On Aug. 23, according to Clarke County voter records, Gaines moved his voting address to 350 Carlton Terrace, site of a duplex owned by Kathryn Surdyk and Christopher Dorsey, according to Athens-Clarke County tax records.
Thumb Of Land
The 350 Carlton Terrace address puts Gaines in the thumb of land added to the 117th to include the then-residence of Doug McKillip at 135 University Drive. McKillip now lives in Oconee County.
The 117th was created to accommodate McKillip, who had been elected as a Democrat but switched parties and was thought to need Republican voters in Barrow, Jackson and Oconee counties to be re-elected. In 2012, Quick defeated McKillip in the Republican primary.
Gonzalez lives at 212 McHenry Drive, off Timothy Road, in a home jointly owned with her husband, Robert Scott, according to tax records.
Scott is a Distinguished Research Professor and administrator at the University of Georgia.
Gaines and Gonzalez are about equidistant from the Oconee County line.
Both Gonzalez and Gaines are strongly tied to the University of Georgia.
Gonzalez, at attorney, came to Georgia for a position in the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, a unit of Public Service and Outreach at the University of Georgia.
Gaines has just completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Georgia, where he was student government president, and has said he is considering entering law school.
A search of records indicates that Gaines hedged on Campus Carry when he was student government president, as he has as a candidate, noting concerns about restricting Second Amendment rights.
Gonzalez has said she decided to run in part in response to the approval of Campus Carry in the last legislative session, over the no votes of Quick, Williams and Sen. Bill Cowsert, who represents Oconee County and parts of Clarke County.
Campus Carry is very unpopular on the campus of the University of Georgia, but second amendment support is more likely to play well in Barrow, Jackson and Oconee counties.
Appeal Across District Parts
In a special session of the University of Georgia Student Government Senate on Jan. 31, 2017, when Gaines was Student Government President, the body approved a resolution formally supporting international students as a counter to President Donald Trump’s executive order restricting immigration.
According to the resolution, “the 29th Administration of the Student Government Association stands in support of all students, especially international students, and affirms their value, rights, and safety on our campus.”
Gonzalez has spoken of her own background as a daughter of Puerto Rican parents and of the importance of accepting diversity in the country.
Support for immigrants and diversity is likely to find more approval in more diverse Clarke County than in less diverse Barrow, Jackson and Oconee counties.
That is the nature of the challenge of the 117th District as well as of the 119th District as they were created by the legislature in 2011.