Oconee County had 108 voters turn out on Monday for the first day of early voting for the June 9 election, which includes the delayed Democratic and Republican presidential primaries, state primaries, and nonpartisan judicial races.
Only six voters used the Democratic Ballot on Monday, with the remaining 102 using the Republican Ballot.
By the end of the day on Monday, the Oconee County Board of Elections and Registration reported receiving 1,062 Democratic Absentee Ballots, 1,679 Republican Absentee Ballots, and 73 Nonpartisan Absentee Ballots.
Also on Monday, Atlanta Attorney Bruce P. Brown filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Atlanta on behalf of Deborah Gonzalez and four other citizens to force Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger to hold an election on Nov. 3 for District Attorney for Oconee and Clarke counties.
Gonzalez, an Athens attorney and former state House Representative for District 117, which includes part of Oconee County, had declared her intention to run as a Democrat for District Attorney.
Andrea Wellnitz, one of the founders of Oconee County Progressives, is one of the four additional plaintiffs. The other three are from Athens-Clarke County.
In news that has impact on redistricting and thus politics in the region, Oconee County had more than a 10 percent higher return rate for the U.S. Census at the beginning of the day on Monday than Clarke County and a higher rate than any of the other seven counties surrounding Oconee and Clarke counties.
Early And Absentee Voting
Early voting will continue on Tuesday and is being held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays until June 5 at the Elections and Registration Office at 10 Court Street, across from the Courthouse, with the exception of Memorial Day, May 25, when that office will be closed.
Early voting also will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 30. Voters must social distance, and workers are wearing protective equipment.
On election day, polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Voters who have not already voted in the postponed March 24 presidential primary are able to cast a ballot for that primary as well as in the party primaries originally scheduled for May 19.
Nonpartisan judicial races will be decided on June 9 unless there is a need for a runoff.
Fran Leathers, director of Elections and Registration for Oconee County, told me in an email message late on Monday that the county has finished processing applications for Absentee Ballots.
Her office has issued 9,218 ballots, of which 2,834 were Democratic and 6,098 were Republican. Her office issued another 286 Nonpartisan Ballots.
The total number of active and inactive registered voters for the county at the end of the day on Monday was 30,457, Leathers said.
Gov. Kemp failed to appoint a District Attorney for the Western Judicial District, which is made up of Oconee and Clarke counties, by May 3, which, based on a state law, was the deadline for making the appointment and allowing for a special election on Nov. 3.
|Gonzalez Campaign Picture|
Longtime District Attorney Ken Mauldin, a Democrat, retired on Feb 29, and the position currently is held by Acting District Attorney Brian Patterson, an Oconee County resident, who also had said he would run as a Democrat for the District Attorney spot.
The lawsuit contends that the law passed by the Georgia General Assembly in 2018 “violates the United States Constitution and the Georgia Constitution” by allowing the governor to delay election of the District Attorney until 2022 by not making the appointment on or before May 3.
The lawsuit argues courts have found that “the right to vote freely for the candidate of one’s choice is of the essence of a democratic society, and any restrictions on that right strike at the heart of representative government.”
Court decisions also have established that “candidacy for office is one of the ultimate forms of political expression in our society,” according to the lawsuit.
Gonzalez had informed Kemp should would take legal action if he did not make an appointment before the May 3 deadline set in the statute.
Impact On Plaintiffs
Gonzalez publicly declared her candidacy for District Attorney of the Western Judicial Circuit for the four-year term beginning January 1, 2021, the suit states, and “If the election occurs, Gonzalez fully intends to be a candidate for the position and vote in the election.”
Each of the remaining four plaintiffs are registered voters who “intended to vote in the election for the Western Circuit District Attorney for the four-year term beginning January 1, 2021,” according to the suit.
Each of the four “fully intends to vote in the election” if the state is forced to hold it on Nov. 3, the suit argues.
Wellnitz ran unsuccessfully for the Oconee County Board of Education as a Democrat in 2018. She and three others founded Oconee County Progressives in 2017.
Attorney Brown has represented media companies in First Amendment litigation and governments in civil rights cases in state and federal court, according to the news release issued by Gonzalez on Monday.
The U.S. Census Bureau has an interactive “dashboard” on its website listing Census return rates for each of the counties in Georgia.
At the beginning of Monday, 65.5 percent of the households in Oconee had returned the Census Form online, via the mail, or by phone. The vast majority, 59.7 percent, returned the form via the Internet.
Total return rates for surrounding counties were: Greene, 51.8 percent; Clarke County, 53.6 percent; Oglethorpe County, 54.9 percent; Morgan County, 55.8 percent; Madison County, 56.4 percent; Jackson County, 63.6 percent; Walton County, 64.7 percent; and Barrow County, 64.9 percent.
The Census Bureau introduced Internet and phone return options for the 2020 Census.
In 2010, 73.4 percent of Oconee County Households had returned the form by mail, so the current Oconee County Census return rate is 7.9 percent lower than the similar rate in 2010.
Oconee County shares state legislative districts with Barrow, Clarke, Jackson and Walton counties, and the counts will have important impact on redistricting following the Census.
Oconee County is one of 25 counties in the 10th Congressional District, which also will be affected by redistricting.
College students are supposed to complete the form where they live while in school, and University of Georgia and University of North Georgia students live in Clarke and Oconee counties.
The Census Bureau began follow-up field operations to reach those who had not returned a form on March 15 but suspended field operations three days later due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
Those field operations resumed earlier this month, but many students remain away from the area while the universities are closed.