The 2016 General Election finally is underway.
Georgia this week started mailing out absentee ballots, with about 1,500 requested so far in Muscogee County.
“We’re showing huge interest from the military,” said Nancy Boren, executive director of the Muscogee County Board of Elections and Registrations. Students away at college also are voting absentee, she said.
The county has about 97,000 active voters.
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Each ballot here has six or seven contested races — depending on the voter’s address — four constitutional amendments and one local referendum on lifting the city’s tax assessment freeze on owner-occupied homes.
One race is not obviously contested, because one of the two contenders is not on the ballot: Attorney Mike Garner is running as a write-in candidate against minister Ann Hardman, who defeated incumbent Superior Court Clerk Linda Pierce to win the Democratic nomination. Only Hardman is on the ballot, above a space where voters can write in Garner’s name.
Also running as a write-in candidate is Pam Brown, disqualified from running in the Democratic Primary for sheriff for failing to meet a deadline to submit fingerprints for a background check. Incumbent Sheriff John Darr, running as an independent, also faces Republican Mark LaJoye and Democrat Donna Tompkins.
Those are the only contested races exclusive to Muscogee County.
Regionally, south Columbus voters in the 2nd Congressional District must choose between incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop and Republican challenger Greg Duke.
North Columbus voters in the 3rd Congressional District must choose between Republican Drew Ferguson and Democrat Angela Pendley, to replace retiring Rep. Lynn Westmoreland.
In the race for state senator from District 29, which includes part of north Columbus, incumbent Republican Josh McKoon faces Democrat Ben Anderson.
In another state race, incumbent Republican Tim Echols faces Libertarian challenger Eric Hoskins for Public Service Commissioner.
Statewide, incumbent U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson faces Democrat Jim Barksdale and Libertarian Allen Buckley.
Leading every ballot is the hot presidential race between Republican Donald Trump, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Libertarian Gary Johnson. Their names will be on the ballot, but 17 write-in candidates’ names will not.
Most likely to give people pause are the state constitutional amendments, if voters bother to read that far. Many don’t, because of what’s called “ballot fatigue.”
“That’s a demonstrated fact,” Boren said: Voters get tired of reading through the amendments, so they give up, go on and cast their ballots.
The first constitutional amendment this year would let the state take control of “chronically failing public schools,” the third would change the state Judicial Qualifications Commission that regulates judges, and the fourth would use taxes on fireworks to fund trauma care and firefighter training and gear.
The second amendment might trigger more interest, as ballots so rarely include terms such as prostitution, pimping, pandering, sodomy, masturbation for hire and sexual servitude.
The amendment asks whether penalties for such crimes, along with taxes on adult entertainment, should fund services for victims of sexual exploitation.
Boren suggests voters read through the amendments in advance, else they’ll have to get up to speed as they vote, risking ballot fatigue.
The deadline to register is Oct. 11. Residents with a driver’s license or state identification number can register online through the Georgia Secretary of State, sos.ga.gov. Those unsure of their status can check the “My Voter Page,” www.mvp.sos.ga.gov, where they can download sample ballots.
Those with smart phones can send a text to “2vote,” type “Georgia” into the message and send, and in reply get a link, Boren said.
Early voting here will be Oct. 17 through Nov. 4, every day, including weekends.
All advance, in-person voting will be in the community room of the City Services Center, 3111 Citizens Way, off Macon Road by the Columbus Public Library. The hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. All Georgia voting precincts will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 8.
In Harris County, early voting at the 104 N. College St. Courthouse Annex in Hamilton will be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday the weeks of Oct. 17-21 and Oct. 24-28; 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. the week of Oct. 31-Nov. 4; and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 29.
The two major parties have headquarters in Columbus:
The Democrats are at 3740 Macon Road, open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and opening at noon on Sunday. The telephone number is 706-563-6364. Email inquiries may go to Patricia Lassiter, firstname.lastname@example.org.