From left, Board of Elections members Freddye Phipps, Elections Supervisor Ginger Nickerson, Walter Blankenship, Alan R. Pendleton and Lonzie White swear their oaths as elections officials as administered by Probate Judge Nancy Stephenson during a recent board meeting.
ALBANY, Ga. -- The Dougherty County Board of Elections unanimously approved a measure Wednesday that will allow its elections supervisor to research the impact that extending voting hours and voting on Saturdays could have on the process.
While this action is not the first time the board has considered the idea, its decision came after a presentation by Constance Burkes, the head of the Dougherty County Democratic Party, during which she encouraged the board to extend the voting times and to allow citizens to vote on Saturdays in what she said is an effort to better allow the working people an opportunity to cast a ballot.
"I think that, with all the programs that are out there right now, we need to look at every option possible to get voters to the polls," Burkes told the board.
Saturday voting is legal under the Georgia code and is being done to some extent in Sumter County and, according to Burkes, in Rockdale County.
After hearing Burkes' presentation, the board unanimously authorized Elections Supervisor Ginger Nickerson to gather information related to the cost, the effect on staff and the equipment that would be needed to undertake a Saturday voting initiative.
Nickerson is to gather the information by Friday and report back to board members early next week so they can decide whether a special called meeting to authorize a pilot program would be necessary.
As Burkes told the board, time is of the essence. The early voting period for the Nov. 2 general election has started and, should the board vote to authorize a change in the voting schedule, it would likely require at least a cursory glance by the U.S. Department of Justice before it could be implemented.
The early voting period has started at a fast clip, according to Nickerson, who told the board that in less than three days more than 233 voters had come into the downtown office to cast a ballot.
Under Georgia law, voters can cast ballots early for any reason beginning 45 days out from any election.
Nickerson said elections officials intend to open up a second downtown precinct during the week immediately before the election -- Oct. 25-29 -- at the Candy Room on Pine Avenue to accommodate what is expected to be a large voter turnout.
Elections officials have even seen a bump in voter registration numbers. According to Nickerson, there were 49,574 registered voters in Dougherty County in Septemeber, which is up by 70 voters from August.
In the city, 63 more voters registered than in August, bringing the total tally to 39,337.
The number of inactive voters, 8,323, is also down by 86, she said.