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Posted: October 10, 2010 12:30 a.m.

Candidates, voters both active early

Georgia has one of the longest early voting periods in the nation, increasing voter access and pushing candidates to campaign longer and establish platforms earlier.

Newton County residents have been able to vote since Sept. 20 and have cast 1,616 votes at the Newton County Administration Building as of 8 a.m. Friday, with an additional 881 absentee ballots having been mailed out. Across the state 116,444 ballots have been cast.

Early voting was first instituted in 2008, but those numbers aren’t comparable because turnout is always higher in a presidential election year. Because voters don’t have to declare party affiliation in Georgia, it’s impossible to tell which party has been more active.

In 2006, the state only had advanced voting a week before the election and a total of 1,954 in-office and absentee ballots were submitted during that week, said Angela Mantle, assistant director of the Newton County Board of Elections. A total of 375,142 votes were cast statewide, said Sara Thompson, spokesperson for the Georgia Secretary of State’s office.

Rickie Corley ran several campaigns as a Newton County Board of Education member before early voting was instituted. This year he’s running for the District 2 Board of Commissioners seat, and he said early voting has him campaigning weeks earlier than usual.

"It does change campaign strategy," he said. "You have to make sure you’ve contacted as many people as you can by (the start of early voting), because you don’t know who’s going to vote early."

Corley’s Democratic opponent Sims agreed that he’s out campaigning early, but he said the effect in District 2 may not be felt as strongly as other areas in Newton County.

"A lot of people on the western side don’t’ go into the city of Covington. The older people who have been there for a while will go and vote early, but it’s hard getting newer residents to do it," Sims said.

However, all candidates say they are informing residents about how to vote early, including Rodney Upton, Republican candidate for District 95 state representative, who has handed out early voting literature previously.

"Every vote counts. Everybody’s talking about this being a very close district," Upton said. "Whether through Facebook or Twitter, we’re telling people to get out early so they don’t run of time."

Local election officials said they’ve had a steady steam of early voters, but it’s still the most convenient way to vote. Residents who have not already registered will not be able to vote in the Nov. 2 election; Newton County has 61,548 registered voters.

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