Georgia voters see long lines, potential for record turnout

ATLANTA (AP) – Hundreds of thousands of Georgia voters headed to presidential primary polls Tuesday and state elections officials said a record for turnout could be in the making.

Experts said intense interest among black voters and a tight Republican race helped spur long lines in many precincts around the state.

With just over half of the precincts reporting, nearly 900,000 ballots had been tallied. Secretary of State Karen Handel said the contest may mark the highest voter turnout here in two decades.

"We're seeing very heavy turnout in just about every county," said Handel, who oversees state elections.

Democrats came out in droves to lift Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, who would be the first black nominee, over New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Exit polls suggested more than half of Georgia's voters in the Democratic contest were black.

Independents and moderate voters may have been attracted to the close GOP race, a showdown between Arizona Sen. John McCain, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

In metro Atlanta's Fulton County — which has 354 polling places, the most in the state — county officials reported long lines throughout the day.

"People, everybody — young, old — are still calling just to go find out where to go to vote," said Brenda McCloud, administrative coordinator for the county's elections board.

Tuesday's vote rivaled the 1988 presidential primary, when about 40 percent of the voters turned out. More than 600,000 Democrats cast their ballots, fueling a Jesse Jackson victory. On the Republican side, about 400,000 voters turned out, giving George H.W. Bush a win over Bob Dole and Pat Robertson.

Alan Abramowitz, an Emory University political science professor who studies voting behavior, predicted as many as 700,000 people could vote in the GOP primary and 800,000 in the Democratic contest.

State elections officials said 247,897 people voted early, either by casting absentee ballots or advance voting. In 2004, a year when only the Democratic nomination was up for grabs, the combined total was 48,411.