Valdosta Daily Times

October 28, 2012

Lowndes voters turn out in record numbers

Dean Poling
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Lowndes County Elections Supervisor Deb Cox estimates that approximately 25,000 voters will cast their ballots by the time early voting ends this week.

Though an estimate, this number would represent nearly 50 percent of Lowndes County’s approximately 60,000 registered voters casting ballots prior to the Nov. 6 election day. If Cox’s prediction holds true, the number will break the 2008 election record when approximately 22,000 Lowndes County voters cast ballots during a 45-day early voting period then.

This year’s early voting period extends over three weeks, with only 16 days available for early voting.

As of Saturday, which was Day 11 of the 16 available early voting days, 15,006 registered voters had cast a ballot at the Lowndes County Board of Elections office on North Oak Street.

On average, more than a thousand voters per day have poured into the Board of Elections office for early voting. On Saturday, 1,279 votes were cast. Friday witnessed 1,783 voters casting ballots.

Yet, even with such high numbers, as of Friday, Cox says no voter has had to spend more than 15 minutes at the elections office, with exception of the one constituent whose car broke down in the parking lot this past week.

“We learned a lot of lessons from the 2008 election,” Cox says.

In 2008, the elections office experienced standing-room-only crowds. This year, the election office has 120 seats available for waiting voters and 149 parking spaces. Cox believes the election office will likely see a higher yield of voters in this coming last week of early voting, as the hours also increase from  8 a.m.-5 p.m. to 7 a.m-7 p.m., and will likely experience more situations where some

voters may have to briefly stand. There have already been instances when the parking lot filled, but elections officials have kept the wait at the 15-minute mark or less.

Learning from 2008, election officials locally and statewide prepared for this year’s potential early-voting crowds.

“We strategized on how to do it better,” Cox says. “… We brainstormed constantly to think of ways we could keep everyone moving and voting.”

It starts and ends with the parking lot where attendants direct voters in and out of the North Oak Street location. At the front door, voters are instructed where to go. Staff members are dedicated to taking IDs and checking voters’ registration. Two to four people constantly work the counter.

Board of Elections staff assure voters properly cast their ballots in a timely manner while also performing their regular daily tasks and preparing for the Nov. 6 election with its multiple precincts and numerous polling place workers.

The BOE staff has averaged 30 hours a week of overtime so far during early voting, Cox says.

“We haven’t had a day off in a long time,” Cox says.

The election board staff’s days won’t get any shorter this week as early voters pushed Friday toward an average of 2,000 per day and the office increases its voting hours to 12 hours per day.

And with this many people voting early in Lowndes County, and even the President of the United States casting an early vote in a Chicago precinct this past week, early voting looks like a ritual that’s here to stay.

Early voting continues 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Friday, Oct. 29-Nov. 2, Lowndes County Board of Elections, 2808 N. Oak St. Voters may also vote on election day, Nov. 6, when not only the totals will be made public, but the likely winners in each race.