While record-breaking numbers of voters heading to the polls early in Georgia and elsewhere in the nation have spawned horror stories of extremely long lines and waits of seven hours or more at some locations, voters in Butts County have had to wait 17 minutes or less to cast their ballots.
“The turnout has been awesome,” said Butts County Elections Director Tina Lunsford. “We have 40 voting units set up, so our longest line was, of course, the first day (on Monday, Oct. 13) in the morning, and the longest anybody waited then was 17 minutes.
“We just planned really good for it,” she added. “We knew there were going to be a lot of people coming out for early voting. We advertised it and spread the work to encourage the turnout, but with social distancing, we didn’t want to have the long lines.”
Through Saturday, Oct. 24, more than 50% of the 17,850 registered voters in Butts County have already cast their ballots. In addition to the regular early voting days, voters were also able to vote on the last two Saturdays, and will be able to vote until 7 p.m each day this week.
“We had Saturday voting on Oct. 17 and Oct. 24, and each day we had more than 400 voters turn out,” Lunsford said. “This week we’re voting until 7 p.m. each night until Friday for people that work every day.”
We’ve voted almost 50% already in the first two weeks,” she added. “So we’re really thrilled about that. We have had 1,812 mail-in ballots that have been returned and we did 6,784 in-person voting early. So we’re closing in on 9,000 ballots cast already between the two.”
Butts County sent out a total of 2,816 mail-in ballots, but 437 of them were cancelled because voters wanted to vote in person. With the 1,812 mail-in ballots already received, that only leaves 536 left to come in by 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3.
(U.S. District Judge Eleanor Ross issued a preliminary injunction on Aug. 31 ordering that absentee [mail-in] ballots that are postmarked by Election Day and arrive at county election offices by 7 p.m. three business days later be counted. But Georgia appealed and a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 to stay the injunction, meaning absentee ballots must be received by 7 p.m. on Nov. 3.)
While many larger counties are expecting the final vote tallies to take several days past Nov. 3 due to the large number of votes being cast, Lunsford said thanks to participating in early scanning, which allowed the mail-in ballots to be scanned in, but not counted, ahead of Election Day, she expects Butts County to have about 98% of the ballots counted on election night.
“The only things we would have left are any provisional ballots, and any absentee by mail that make the deadline,” Lunsford said. “Provisional ballots are anyone who shows up to vote that doesn’t have their photo ID, or they think they registered, but they’re not on the list. Those are considered provisional ballots until we can verify them.”
Early voting ends Friday, Oct. 30, at 7 p.m. The Butts County polling location at the administration building, 625 W. Third Street in Jackson, will be open on Election Day, Nov. 3., from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.