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Apathy leads the field in advance voting for Georgia primary

Four election workers. Fifteen voting machines. Zero voters.

The scene at 10:30 Saturday morning at the C.T. Martin Natatorium and Recreation Center in southwest Atlanta underscored an apparent lack of excitement surrounding Georgia’s May 22 primary elections. Entering the final week of advance in-person voting, on the last weekend days when polls were open, voters trickled into polling places Saturday, drawn more by a sense of duty than of enthusiasm.

“People are not excited,” said Philip Francis, the poll manager at the C.T. Martin center, in the Adamsville neighborhood. “It should be more. It’s usually more, let me put it that way.”

As of Friday, 90,200 voters had cast early ballots across Georgia, according to the secretary of state’s office. During the 2016 presidential primary, that many people voted early in Fulton, DeKalb and Gwinnett counties alone.

Barring a surge this week, the number of early votes also will fall far short of the roughly 200,000 cast four years ago, the last time Georgians nominated candidates for governor and other statewide offices. Then, the Democratic nomination was uncontested, and incumbent Gov. Nathan Deal faced nominal opposition in the Republican primary. This year, a robust field of candidates — six Republicans and two Democrats — is competing to succeed Deal, who is retiring after two terms.

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Monday, April 30 was the start of early voting for Georgia's primary elections.

But many people seem both apathetic and uninformed.

“Most of the people don’t know what’s on the ballot,” said Kim Abnatha, the poll manager at the Dunwoody branch of the DeKalb County Public Library. “A lot of people come into the library and say they didn’t know there was an election.”

The parking lot was mostly full late Saturday morning, but most library patrons kept walking when poll workers asked if they were there to vote. Abnatha expected only about 100 people to cast ballots by day’s end.

Joe Goode came to vote Saturday because he is having knee-replacement surgery and will still be recuperating on Election Day. He said he has heard little talk about the primaries, but said he was “interested in getting more Democrats into office in Georgia.”

At the natatorium in Adamsville, Raquel Hill worked a booth on the sidewalk outside the polling place, passing out snacks and drinks — not to voters, but to volunteers in a community cleanup program sponsored by a nonprofit, the Launchpad Foundation. Hill ran the campaign of an unsuccessful candidate for the Atlanta City Council last year, and she was active in the mayor’s race. Elections like those, she said, are more likely to engage voters.

“People are more localized,” she said. When they can’t see candidates in their neighborhoods, “it doesn’t relate to them.”

Besides, she said, many are just too busy to vote – either in advance or on Election Day. “These people are at work right now,” Hill said, “probably thinking about how quickly they can change their uniforms and get on to their next jobs.”

»More information: Visit PoliticallyGeorgia.com for full coverage of Georgia’s key races.

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