In historic first, DeKalb to reserve a Sunday for voting in October

Next month, for the first time in state history, some Georgia voters will be able to cast their ballots on a Sunday.

In an effort to boost turnout, DeKalb County — the state’s richest source of Democratic votes — is about to name Oct. 26 as an extra day to vote, as well as a day of rest.

Look for other counties to follow.

Throughout this summer, we’ve pondered over how Democrats might boost their numbers to push their legacy candidates, Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter, over the finish line. They’re finally showing their hand.

Lee May, DeKalb County’s interim CEO, will announce the move Monday, even as first lady Michelle Obama tours Atlanta on behalf of Nunn. Her stops will include a voter registration rally.

Other vote-generating efforts that DeKalb officials will announce include the opening of an early-voting station within the Gallery at South DeKalb. The mall is one of the most heavily trafficked venues in the county, dominated by African-American shoppers.

The polling station within the Gallery at South DeKalb will be among three open on the last Sunday in October. Think busloads of churchgoers, perhaps from the 25,000-member New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, pastored by Bishop Eddie Long, turning the day into a social event.

In an interview late this week, May didn’t deny that this would be a result. “I encourage everybody to be as creative as they can to get voters to the polls,” he said.

May also challenged other counties to make the Sunday move. We understand that Clayton County, where voters will decide whether to accept an expansion of MARTA, may be next — perhaps followed by Rockdale, Bibb, Douglas, Muscogee and Richmond counties.

Anywhere Democrats control local government, and where African-American churches are a substantial part of the political fabric.

“I think the rest of the 158 counties in Georgia ought to do it. Voting ought to be as convenient as possible,” said DuBose Porter, the chairman of the state Democratic Party. “We would appreciate other counties stepping out and the challenge Lee May has made for other counties to do it.”

A spokesman for Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp said that Sunday polling conforms with current state law — state election officials have been given a heads-up by their DeKalb counterparts.

But the move to Sunday voting will come as a surprise to Georgia Republicans.

Ironically, the stolen march was made possible by the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision that removed the need for advance U.S. Justice Department clearance for any change in this state’s election laws -- which Democrats have uniformly condemned. Under the old rules, pre-clearance -- and the accompanying publicity -- would have been required, said Rebecca DeHart, executive director of the state Democratic party.

In DeKalb, May said the move to Sunday voting is an administrative matter — no vote by the currently discombobulated County Commission is required. The idea of placing a polling station in a mall came from Muscogee County, which experimented with a rent-free station during the May 20 primary, May said.

Other states have designated Sundays for early voting, but in Georgia, the idea is original to DeKalb — which should surprise no one.

Four Democrats on the statewide ballot hail from that county: Carter, the gubernatorial candidate; Connie Stokes, who is running for lieutenant governor; Valarie Wilson, the party’s nominee for state school superintendent; and Doreen Carter, the candidate for secretary of state.

DeKalb has more registered voters than any county in Georgia except for Fulton. But it suffers from the same off-cycle decline endured by other Democratic enclaves.

“Voting numbers always go down. DeKalb is no different,” May said. In the 2012 general election, which saw President Barack Obama re-elected – though he fell short in Georgia — DeKalb County churned out 307,474 ballots.

But in the 2010 gubernatorial contest, when former Gov. Roy Barnes, a Democrat, faced Republican Nathan Deal, the DeKalb vote amounted only to 208,732. The 100,000-vote difference in DeKalb is significant, given that Barnes lost by just over 250,000 votes.

Democrats concede that if they make Sunday voting as successful as they hope, the first Georgia ballots cast on the Christian Sabbath may be the last. Come January, Republicans in the state Legislature might very well put a lid on the practice.

One possible argument: If you can’t get a Chick-fil-A sandwich on a Sunday, why should you be able to get a ballot?

‘This is a nonpartisan opportunity that we have before us,” May said. “I guess they have the right, but I think it would be unfortunate.”

On the other hand, if it works really, really well, a Democrat might be holding the veto pen in January.

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About the Author

Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway is a three-decade veteran of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who writes the Political Insider blog and column.