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A heavy turnout already
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Did you vote early this year?

If you did, then you helped make history, since you’re one of 2 million registered voters in Georgia who voted early.   

That’s right — an astounding 35 percent of Georgia’s 5.6 million registered voters voted during the 45 days of early and advance voting this year. That’s more than five times the 422,000 people who voted early in the 2004 election.

In fact, in seven of the state’s 159 counties, over half of the registered voters have already cast their ballots. And another 26 counties have had at least 40 percent of their registered voters vote early.   

But not everyone is satisfied with the process. In fact a group of Democratic officials, led by Atlanta Congressman John Lewis and Mayor Shirley Franklin, held a press conference at the state Capitol last week to urge Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue and Republican Secretary of State Karen Handel to extend the voting period through the weekend and on Monday before the election to handle the enormous volume.

Citing reports of voters having to wait anywhere from four to eight hours in counties in the Metro Atlanta area, the Democratic leaders wanted Georgia to follow the lead of North Carolina and Florida in extending early voting hours.  

The Democratic leaders point out that 35 percent of the early voters have been African-American, who tend to vote Democratic, which should bode well for the Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Barack Obama.  

The request drew a harsh response from Secretary of State Handel, who pointed out that Georgia is one of nine states that must apply to the U.S. Department of Justice for clearance before changing voting procedures. Ironically, this requirement is a result of the Voting Rights Act of 1964 that Congressman Lewis fought to enact.       

Regardless, the good news is that 2 million registered voters have already voted. The bad news is that with an expected turnout of 90 percent, over 3.2 million voters will cast ballots today.

In addition, having added more than half a million new voters to the rolls this past year, many will be voting for the first time.  Factor in that this will be the first presidential election in which Georgians will have to present government-issued photographic identification at the polls and we could be looking at the makings of some real problems.

Not to worry, say state officials. Although acknowledging that variables can overwhelm even the best laid plans, Georgia is well prepared with more than 3,000 polling places supervised by 15,000 poll workers, albeit with an average age of 72.

Besides, following the Florida nightmare during the Presidential election of 2000, Georgia adopted a statewide balloting system based on touch-screen voting machines.  Currently, counties in Georgia own about 27,000 machines, or one for every 207 registered voters.     

And for those who do have a problem, provisional ballots will be available. While counties set their own rules for assessing the validity of provisional ballots, any voter who doesn’t have a valid ID will be given a provisional ballot and if they present an acceptable ID to the county elections registrar within two days the ballot will be counted.   

Voters whose names don’t appear on the rolls for their precinct can also get a provisional ballot that will be counted if they can prove they are actually registered.

As a final precaution, the Secretary of State’s office has set up the following numbers to report any problems at polling places: 1-888-265-1115 or 1-877-725-9797.

So if you’re like me and you haven’t voted yet, today is the day we can exercise one of the greatest rights we have as a citizen — the right to vote.