Elections supervisor blames bad timing for dismally low voter turnout
Pickens County is divided into two Georgia State Senate Districts. The local elections supervisor said this can cause confusion among voters. Only the half in purple is voting in the runoff election underway.
Just 168 of the 6,672 active registered Pickens County voters in Georgia State Senate District 54 cast votes in the special election last Tuesday, Dec. 13th, a dismal 2.52 % turnout.
Pickens County Elections Supervisor Julianne Roberts said the election’s timing was terrible, and that it was planned quickly when Gov. Nathan Deal appointed Sen. Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton) to the State Court of Appeals judgeship just weeks after he was reelected to the senate in November.
“The problem wasn’t the race; it was such bad timing,” Roberts said. “It was the only race on the ballot and this time of year I think a lot of people are getting ready for holidays. I mean, it’s just a few days from Christmas. On our Saturday voting day we had two people come in. I think [the state] wanted to go ahead and have the election so they would have someone in office when session starts in January.”
The actual number of eligible voters in Pickens for the special election was about 7,800, but the elections office is not allowed to report “inactive” voters who have not voted in several years.
“It’s not an accurate picture, but they do that to make the percentage higher,” Roberts said.
Five candidates vied for the position with Republican Chuck Payne and non-partisan Debby Peppers, both from Dalton, headed to a runoff on Tuesday, Jan. 10. Statewide, Payne took 36 percent of the vote Tuesday night. Peppers took 27 percent. Other candidates included Conda Goodson, Shell Underwood, and Billy Vinyard.
Pickens County’s results were: Goodson, 56 votes (33.73 %); Payne, 51 (30.72 %); Peppers, 32 (19.28 %); Underwood, 22 (13.25 %); and Vinyard, 5 (3.01 %).
Early voting for the special election runoff will be Tuesday, Dec. 27 through Friday, Dec. 30. and Tuesday, Jan. 3 through Friday Jan. 6 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Voters will go to their regular polling places on Monday, Jan. 10 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Does split district
Georgia State Senate District 54 covers western Pickens County and a portion of Gordon County, and all of Whitfield and Murray counties. The rest of Pickens is in District 51, which is currently represented by Sen. Steve Gooch.
Pickens’ elections supervisor said voters get confused because the county is split into two senate districts. The local elections office had almost as many voters from District 51 to try to vote in the special election last week.
“We had to turn them away and some thought we were trying to keep them from voting,” she said, “ but we had to explain they weren’t able to vote in this election at all.”
Roberts said the county was split back in 2001 when she first came on board at the elections office, but soon after changed and was represented by the same senator and congressman.
“And that worked out great, but then in 2011 we changed back to being split and it confuses voters,” she said. “I personally don’t think we are large enough to be split like that.”
Pickens is still represented entirely with one house district, District 11. Rep. Rick Jasperse is the current office holder in that district.