Just less than 5 percent of Oconee County’s registered voters had cast a ballot before voting for the March 24 Presidential Primary was suspended by Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger at the end of early voting today.
The Presidential Primary now will coincide with the already scheduled May 19 party primaries and nonpartisan judicial elections.
County voters cast 557 Republican ballots in the two weeks ending today, or a little more than a quarter of the 2,022 cast in early voting in 2016.
According to Raffensperger’s announcement, voters “who have already cast their vote in person or by mail for the March 24 primary will be able to vote again in the May 19 primary for the elections already scheduled for that date.”
“If Georgians who have already cast their vote for the March 24 primary do not vote again in the May 19 primary,” the announcement continues, “their votes for the presidential preference primary will still count."
The announcement does not make clear if a person who has cast a ballot in early voting in the Presidential Primary can change his or her vote in that race on May 19.
Fran Leathers, director of Oconee County Elections and Registration, had not been informed of the cancellation of the election when she left her office after early voting ended at 4 p.m. today, and she said she does not have details about what follows.
Courtney Bernardi, president of the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce, confirmed this morning that the Candidate Forum scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday at North Oconee High School for the May 19 elections has been cancelled.
Georgia voters do not register by party, and voters pick the party ballot at the time they present themselves for a primary election, including for the Presidential Primary.
The Republican Presidential Primary Ballot contains only one name, Donald J. Trump, while the Democratic Ballot contains 12 names.
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Voters who participated in the first 11 days of scheduled early voting in Oconee County were nearly twice as likely to pick a Democratic Ballot as a Republican Ballot. (The precise ratio is 1.67.)
Persons with a weak party identification who voted likely selected the more competitive Democratic Ballot, and even some people with a Republican preference might have picked the Democratic Ballot to influence that race, since the Republican race is set.
As the chart above indicates, one more Republican than Democratic ballot was cast on the first day of early voting, but from there on out more Democratic ballots than Republican ballots were cast in the county.
Democratic voting increased in recent days, ending at 129 ballots today, the only day scheduled for early voting on a Saturday.
With one exception, Democratic voting increased each day after Super Tuesday voting on March 10, when candidate Joe Biden increased his odds of winning the nomination, and through the increased uncertainty created by the COVID-19 outbreak in the state, country and world.
Comparisons of early voting this year with early voting in 2016 are complicated by the different nature of the contests in the two years.
In 2016, the Republican Presidential Primary Ballot contained 13 names, and Trump had not yet captured the nomination when the election was held on March 1.
Trump received 30.9 percent of the 9,162 votes cast and was the top vote getter in Oconee County, besting Ted Cruz’s 25.7 percent and Marco Rubio’s 26.0 percent.
The Democratic Primary Ballot in 2016 listed only four names, and the race seemed more settled by the March 1 voting date.
In the end Sanders received 47.2 percent of the 2,341 votes cast in Oconee County while Hillary Clinton received 52.4 percent.
The county had 21,402 active registered voters in the 2016 election, and 12.1 percent of those voters cast an early ballot.
Of the 11,498 votes cast in either the Democratic or the Republican primary, 22.6 percent were cast during early voting.
In the 11 days of early voting this year before the election was suspended today, only 5.2 percent of the county’s 28,777 active registered voters had cast a ballot, largely because of the low level of activity in the Republican Primary.
Raffensperger’s announcement, posted on the Secretary of State web site somewhere after 5:45 p.m. today, is confusingly worded.
The two paragraphs cited above are not attributed to anyone and are contained in a paragraph that quotes State Sen. Nikema Williams, the chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia.
“Secretary Raffensperger has represented that all votes already cast in person and all absentee ballots will be counted and every Georgia voter that has not yet had a chance to cast a ballot in the March 24 elections will be able to do so on May 19, along with the elections already scheduled for that date,” the statement reads.
The information about the cancellation of the election follows a paragraph noting that “Governor Kemp has declared a public health emergency. President Trump has declared a national emergency.”
“Maintaining the integrity of the election depends on the talents of poll workers who are in the high-risk group because their average age is over 70. So concern for their health is a central consideration in this decision,” the statement reads.
At that point in the statement, no decision has been announced.
The headline on the announcement is: SECRETARY OF STATE RAFFENSPERGER POSTPONES THE PRESIDENTIAL PREFERENCE PRIMARY.
Leathers, director of Oconee County Elections and Registration, told me in an email message at 5:48 p.m. today that she had not heard anything about cancellation of the election.
Leathers wrote me at 7:49 p.m. and said: “It’s true. I don’t have many details. No more Early Voting. I’ll keep you posted.”
Leathers and Assistant Director Jennifer Stone provided me with the data on early voting over the last two weeks.
Early voting for the May 19 primary is scheduled to being on April 27.