Dougherty County voter Melvin Wesley joins 1260 other county voters who cast their votes early for this month’s primary runoffs. Friday was the final day for early voting before Tuesday’s regular election day. (Staff photo: Brad McEwen)
ALBANY — With early voting for Tuesday’s primary closing, the runoff battle for Georgia House District 153 ws heating up Friday.
Dougherty County Elections Supervisor Ginger Nickerson said that she has been both pleased and surprised by the number of registered voters who made the decision to vote early.
“We’ve been pleasantly surprised,” Nickerson said. “It’s one of the largest turnouts (for early voting in a runoff) than I’ve seen in the 12 years I’ve been here.”
As of the clsoe of early voting Friday, 1,343 of the nearly 50,000 registered voters in Dougherty County had voted early. The elections office had also mailed out 1,419 absentee ballots and had received 738 at that time.
In comparison, during May’s regular primary 1,777 voters cast their ballot early and only 443 absentee ballots were sent out.
While Nickerson said the elections office did not keep official numbers on how many early voters were voting in either the Democratic or Republican primaries, she felt the majority of those voting were voting Democratic.
The Democratic ballot features two of the most hotly contested races in the county. Of the 28 county precincts, 14 include the Georgia House 153 runoff between incumbent state Rep. Carol Fullerton and challenger Darrell Ealum, and five precincts also include the Dougherty County School Board District 6 runoff between Dean Phinazee and Princess Millegde. Also included on the Democratic ballot in all precincts is the race for State Superintendent between Alisha Morgan and Valarie Wilson.
The Republican runoff ballot only includes two statewide races: the state school superintendent race between Mike Buck and Richard Woods and the U.S. Senate race between Jack Kingston and David A. Perdue.
Nickerson said that despite the early turnout, her office would be prepared, as normal, to accommodate all of the the county’s voters on Tuesday.
“All of the precincts will be open and fully staffed,” said Nickerson. “We set up as if everybody in Albany is going to come out. And we would like for them to come out.”
Ealum and Fullerton have been hard at work urging voters to come out and both candidates said they would be working around the clock through Tuesday to encourage voters to turn out at the polls.
“We’re wide open and will be for the next 72 hours,” Ealum said Friday. “We’ve got a very powerful campaign going here.”
Fullerton said she spent most Friday morning on the phones and responding to correspondences via email. She said she plans to be “out and about” for the next few days.
“We’ll be steady campaigning and meeting with workers,” Fullerton said. “We’ll be busy night and day from now until Tuesday.”
While both candidates have spent a considerable amount of time campaigning over the past few weeks, they have also had to deal with unexpected campaign issues.
Fullerton reported Thursday that seven of her 6-by-4-foot signs, valued at roughly $130 each, had gone missing this week — one on Clark Avenue, three on Radium Springs Road and three on Slappey Boulevard, including one in front of Villa Gargano restaurant.
After obtaining video from Villa Gargano owner John Gargano that showed a red pickup truck pulling into the restaurant’s parking lot and someone from the truck removing the sign at approximately 12:30 a.m., Fullerton contacted the Albany Police Department and reported the signs stolen.
“Those things are expensive and people donated to the campaign,” Fullerton said. “I feel responsible for them.”
Fullerton did not offer any insight into who she felt was responsible for the missing signs, but did express frustration about the overall contentious nature of the current campaign.
Ealum had an incident of his own this week, receiving a voicemail from an anonymous caller who he said threatened him and his wife.
Ealum shared two recordings in which the caller informed him that he was going to face trouble.
“You don’t need to worry about calling me back,” one recording began. “You need to call a lawyer cause you’re going to jail.”
The caller then proceeds to call Ealum an expletive and a “low down dirty redneck.”
When asked about the recording Ealum said he recognized the caller’s name and that he believed the caller to be one of Fullerton’s campaign workers. He also said, however, that he didn’t want the campaign to be about the call, but rather the issues. The largest issue, he said, was Fullerton’s allegiance to Atlanta lobbyists over county residents.
“Carol Fullerton is taking thousands and thousands of dollars from lobbyists in Atlanta,” Ealum said. “If she wants to divert attention from the fact that she’s in bed with lobbyists in Atlanta, that’s fine. What’s this election about? It’s about having a state representative with energy, drive and determination. I believe I can make a difference at the next level.”
When asked if she were aware of the voice messages on Ealum’s machine, Fullerton said she was not.
“It better not have been one of my folks,” she said
Nickerson said the polling precincts will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday. She added that any absentee ballots had to be received by the close of the polls on Tuesday to be counted, with the exception of those coming from members of the armed services who have until Friday afternoon’s final mail run to have their ballots in.