LEESBURG -- Around 7 percent of Lee County's registered voters have already cast ballots in early voting leading up to Tuesday's Republican and Democratic primaries, but elections officials say they expect a whole lot more on election day.
"Generally, you have high interest in a sheriff's race because that's such an important position in the county," Lee Elections Superviser Veronica Johnson said Friday as she and her staff prepared for Tuesday's primaries. "When you couple that with three interesting commission races, there's good reason to expect a strong turnout.
"We've put posters in county offices, libraries, coffee shops ... and we've put banners at various locations in the county, reminding everyone to vote. I think it all comes down to how good a job the candidates did of getting their message out to the voters."
Sheriff Reggie Rachals is being challenged by former sheriff's deputy David Cheshire in the Lee sheriff's race, while two incumbent county commissioners -- District 4's Rick Muggridge and District 5's Bill Williams -- are facing, respectively, Frank Taylor and Greg Frich for an opportunity to return to their seats on the board.
District 2 Commissioner Betty Johnson is not seeking re-election, opening the door for newcomers Ray Timms and Luke Singletary to challenge for her seat.
All candidates are listed on the Republican ballot.
Mary Egler is the only Democrat to have qualified for local office, and she will face either Singletary or Timms for the District 2 seat in the Nov. 6 General Election. Libertarian Tim Nelson announced Friday he will qualify as an independent candidate after the primaries to challenge the winner of the Muggridge-Taylor race in District 4 in November.
More than 1,250 Lee voters had cast ballots in early voting by Friday morning, including 88 on July 21 -- the lone day of Saturday voting.
Johnson, who is in her 12th year as head of the Lee Elections Office and who is officiating over her 34th election, said she expects some voters to be surprised that they're voting in new commission and School Board districts, even though their polling location has not changed.
"We've tried to get the word out, but the reality is many people don't pay attention to the cards we mailed informing them of any elections changes (after redistricting)," she said. "No one will change where they vote, but they will be voting for different candidates.
"We'll have huge district maps on the walls at voting precincts that we hope will explain the changes."
Johnson also encouraged voters to be aware that certain races will not appear on Democratic or Republican ballots, and they must specify which ballot they want before going into the voting booth.
"For instance, if you get a Democratic ballot, you can't vote in the sheriff's race," she said. "That's why it's important that voters know beforehand which ballot they want. We can change a ballot for them up to the time that they cast their votes, but once they've voted, it's too late."
Voters will also be asked to answer straw-poll questions posed by their respective parties.
Democrats are being asked:
-- Whether the state Constitution should be amended to allow the state to override local school boards on the establishment of charter schools;
-- Whether the practice of allowing state legislators to accepted unlimited gifts from lobbyists should be ended;
-- Whether georgia should adopt an income tax credit for home energy costs;
-- Whether the state should reduce sales taxes on made-in-georgia products to promote smal business growth in the state.
Republicans are being asked:
-- Whether casino gambling should be allowed with proceeds going to education;
-- Whether a $100 cap should be imposed on lobbyists' gifts to state legislators;
-- Whether active duty military personnel under age 21 should be allowed to obtain a state weapons license;
-- Whether Georgia voters should be required to register a political party affiliation by 30 days before a primary election;
-- Whether the Georgia Constitution should be amended to provide that the right to life is vested in each human from his or her earliest biological beginning.
The posting of a local voters' ballot, with comments, on Facebook also got the Lee Elections office's attention. Johnson warned voters that copying that action is not a wise move.
"Georgia law states in section 21-2-13 that it is illegal to use photography or other electronic devices in a voting booth," she said. "A lot of people think it is neat to post their life on Facebook, and someone local posted a photo of their ballot on their Facebook page. It's been taken down, but they have violated state law, and I honestly don't know what, if any, action will be taken. The state Elections Board will investigate and determine what action to take.
"The state has signage, but we take it further by posting additional signs directing people to turn off their phones and electronic devices."
Johnson said the Lee Elections Office will connect laptops in the Kinchafoonee Room of the T. Page Tharp Governmental Building with a projector that will display results from other races.
Polls open at 7 a.m. Tuesday and close at 7 p.m.