In the two years since the last general election, nearly 10,000 residents have registered to vote in Newton County or become active voters again, thanks in large part to the interest surrounding the presidential election.
Monday was the last day for voters to register in Georgia in order to be eligible to vote on Nov. 4.
As of Oct. 1 there were 52,735 active voters in Newton County. That figures does not include any of the voters who registered in the last few days before Monday when voter registration lines reportedly stretched out of the Board of Elections office on Usher Street.
Of that number, 5,890 have already cast their ballots as of Tuesday afternoon at the BOE, which is offering early voting throughout the month of October. The BOE has also received 1,183 absentee ballots, according to Donna Morrison, elections director for the county.
Comparatively, there were only 43,418 active voters in November 2006, the last general election. The term active voter includes all newly registered voters who have yet to cast a ballot. The number of active voters in the county has increased sharply since November 2007 when there were only 45,443 voters.
Since then, voter registration has increased sharply for both the presidential primary in February and the general primary in July. The biggest jump in voter registration activity happened after the general primary when nearly 3,200 voters registered.
The Barack Obama/Joe Biden campaign in Newton County has been credited with registering many of those 3,200 voters. According to Caroline Adelman, spokesperson for the Obama campaign in Georgia, more than 5,000 voters have been registered by the campaign in both Newton and Rockdale counties since the campaign first put in place ground staff in August.
"We’ve been working hard," said Adelman, who denied that the state was no longer in play for Barack Obama after the campaign made the decision to scale down its TV advertisements and shift staff personnel to more competitive states in September. "We’re still very much in play. It’s going to be very close. We feel very good about things and we feel very good about our grass roots efforts here."
The Obama campaign had earlier stated that their strategy to turn Georgia blue counted in large part on registering the some 700,000 individuals of voting age in the state who were not yet registered. A vast majority of those unregistered voters are black and/or under 30-- two demographics weighted heavily in Obama’s favor.
According to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, from the beginning of the year to Sept. 30, 406,379 Georgians had registered to vote. While an impressive number, it falls well short of the campaign’s goal and that’s assuming the large number of new voters will cast ballots in Obama’s favor.
While Georgia might not be turning blue this year, the difference of several thousand new voters in Newton County could be enough to turn the county purple or even blue. There are three commission seats up for grabs this fall as well as the county chairman’s seat, the sheriff’s office and all of the county’s four state legislature seats. All positions are currently held by Republicans.
Both presidential campaigns have been very active in the county ahead of the election. Frank Turner Jr., chair of the John McCain/ Sarah Palin campaign in Newton County, said the campaign has focused their efforts on phone banking, especially in swing states. The campaign has also distributed signs throughout the county, issued voter guides, registered voters and built up a network of precinct captains for canvassing efforts later this month.
"We obviously feel very good about our chances in Newton County and in the state of Georgia," Turner said. "We have every confidence that we’ll carry the county in 28 days."
Newton County voted heavily Republican in 2006 and has voted reliably Republican for state and national offices for much of the last few decades.
Turner said the Newton County campaign saw a big uptick in the amount of voter interest and the number of volunteers after the Republican National Convention when McCain selected Gov. Palin as his running mate.
"Our number of volunteers probably doubled after that week," Turner said. "We’ve had a tremendous outpouring of support. My office has been deluged with calls as we sign up volunteers."
Elaine Davis-Nickens, a volunteer with the Rockdale and Newton Obama campaign, said she has also experienced an outpouring of voter support for the Obama/Biden ticket.
Davis-Nickens said much of the campaign’s activity in the past two months has surrounded voter registration drives and neighborhood canvassing efforts. She said the campaign has also hosted debate-watch parties for the presidential and vice-presidential debates including one at the Hampton Inn in Conyers last night.
"I think there’s been a tremendous amount of interest in the election period because it’s historical from many perspectives," she said. "This election has galvanized people who’ve never ever voted before. It’s phenomenal. I’ve always been a political junkie, but I haven’t seen this level of excitement since [John] Kennedy."
Davis-Nickens said she was very hopeful Obama would carry both Newton and Rockdale counties and that people should expect to be surprised by the way the votes go down.
"I can’t take another eight years and I have a pretty secure pension, but I see my purchasing power dwindling," she said. "I think that people are voting with their pocketbooks this year. That’s why I believe this election is going to create fundamental change in the way people vote."