During the first week of early voting, 3,892 citizens cast ballots in Athens-Clarke County.
Cora Wright is the interim director for the Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections, and she’s a veteran who’s been there for 21 years. She knows that this is just the beginning of what promises to be a high turnout year. More than 73,000 people are registered to vote, so those who’ve come in so far represent about 5 percent of the total.
The Board of Elections Office on Washington Street is busy because it’s the only place for early voting in Clarke County during the first week. Early voters stream through the doors, following signs leading to the counter where they check in with friendly clerks and pick up the plastic card needed to activate one of the voting machines crowded into an alcove beside the door.
Setting up voting equipment is a part of the staff member’s job. Clarke County poll workers tested the machines and calibrated their touch screens in advance, at a secure location. “We are required to test all polling equipment before each election. Once these all have been done, we sealed the machines and locked them up until the Election Day,” said Wright.
The voting machines used in ACC are not connected to the internet, which reduces the risk of any kind of cyber tampering. Data cards are collected when the polls close on Nov. 8, taken to a central location, and read electronically to tally the votes.
Poll workers in the office are always polite and friendly. They smile to every citizens and are patient about explaining how things work to young and old alike.
Leona Lightburn is one of the poll workers in the Board of Elections office. She sits at a computer, checks voter photo IDs, and directs voters – some of them newbies and others old hands – to the voting machines. She works every Monday to Wednesday 8 a.m.- 5 p.m. during early voting.
Georgia law requires people to show a photo ID in order to vote. But sometimes people forget, especially elders who no longer drive. “We do have provisional voting when people show up without their ID,” Wright said. “We had a lady here yesterday [who forgot her ID], so I let her write a paper ballot. She has to send her copy of photo ID [to our office], and then her ballot will count.”
Lightburn is also the poll manager for precinct 5C – the Chase Street Elementary School.
High turnout is expected on Nov. 8 and schools in Athens will be closed for the day, in order to reduce traffic and secure the safety of children. Wright said, “We have quite a few schools as polling places, and parking will be provided there. It is hard for voters to get there early at 7 a.m. while parents are trying to drop off their kids.”
Three polling places have been relocated this year, and Wright recommends that people visit the My Voter Page website, www.mvp.sos.ga.gov, to make sure they’re going to the location where they are allowed to vote. “The worst thing is going to the wrong polling place.”
Michael Rodriguez has lived in Athens his whole life and is now a senior at Clarke Central High School. Rodriguez is 18, and he’s just registered to vote in his first presidential election.
“The vote, if we do not embrace it, it will be wasted,” said Rodriguez. He sees voting as a right and an important expression of free speech.
On a recent spring afternoon, Rodriquez was one of a group of Latino students walking back to campus from lunch. He’s also part of an increasingly important group of potential voters. The number of Hispanic voters has grown in Clarke County, Georgia, and in the U.S.
Hispanics now make up about 12 percent of all registered voters in the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center, but in past elections they have gone to the polls at lower rates than white or black voters.
Political experts say they will be a major force in the November election if they go to the polls on Nov. 8, and both Republicans and Democrats have been courting them.
Immigration and the economy are tops issue for Rodriguez, whose parents came to Georgia from Mexico before he was born. If the next administration restricts the number of new immigrants, he believes that will have an adverse effect on the economy because labor costs will rise.
Immigration is also a hot issue for Luke Rosario, a classmate of Rodriguez He describes himself as “half Mexican” and he strongly disagrees with Donald Trump’s ideas, which he says would keep people from becoming legal immigrants. “The fact is that they do not come to America and live for free,” Rosario said. “They come here and work hard, just like all of us every day.”
Jenny Vargas, 25, who works as an attendance clerk at Clarke Central, is a legal immigrant from Mexico. She just got her citizenship in June this year and the upcoming election will be her first time voting. Far from being a drain on public resources, she says that “immigrants are helping this country.”
These young people treasure their right to cast their own vote for a presidential candidate, rather than having their parents decide.
Vargas and her mother both became U.S. citizens earlier this year, and both will vote in the upcoming presidential election. Although Vargas says her decision is entirely her own, most other Hispanics will probably vote as she does. “I am sure that our minority does not want Trump to be the president. I feel like if I can contribute to that, it will also be to my advantage,” said Vargas.
Rosario said he would also vote for Hillary Clinton on November 8. Although he and his father did not go to the polls for the Super Tuesday primary, his mother voted for Trump.
He doesn’t plan to follow his mother’s lead. Rosario says he’s done a lot of research and he’s confident about his choice. “Once you vote, that is your president, that is the person that you put into the office,” said Rosario. “It is your choice; it should be nobody else’s decision.
Alyssa Yuhouse graduated from the University of Georgia in May and now works at Clarke Central. She’s a college adviser who helps students plan for college or other post-secondary training. This is her first job.
Tax policy is her top issue, and she’s skeptical about some of Donald Trump’s promises “He tells people that he will lower taxes, but literally people cannot know whether it will pass the Congress,” she said.
Yuhouse registered to vote as an independent, but she did not vote in the March primary partly because she was busy with work, and partly because she did not think her vote would impact the final result. But she’s definitely going to the polls on Nov. 8.
Georgia residents who want to register to vote can do so before Oct. 11 by going to https://registertovote.sos.ga.gov/GAOLVR/welcometoga.do#no-back-button Absentee ballots are also available, and registered voters can vote early at selected polling places between Oct. 17 and Nov. 4.
Of the 336 students accepted by Grady’s undergraduate programs, 180 will study advertising or public relations, said director of undergraduate services Beth Rector. One hundred students were admitted to advertising and 80 to public relations. In contrast, 96 students will pursue journalism and 60 in entertainment and media studies.
“It’s amazing that in a college called ‘journalism and mass communication,’ nearly half the students are in advertising or PR.” Rector said at yesterday’s meeting.
The total number of applicants dropped slightly, from 384 in fall 2015 to 370 in spring 2016. Among the 346 students who were eligible, only 10 of them were rejected for admission or turned down for their first choice major.
Of the accepted students about, 180 asked for financial aid and the majoring were awarded some kind of scholarship, according to Alison Alexander, associate dean for academic affairs, the average funding was 500 dollars.
The percentage of currently enrolled male students remains low while racial and ethnic diversity has increased. “The guys are all too busy playing Call of Duty to apply,” Assistant Professor Shira Chess said.
The Grady College has admitted six doctoral students this year. The number of master’s applicants who will be accepted is uncertain at this point, said Jeff Springston, associate dean for research and graduate studies.
The graduate committee recommended that the faculty approve a new offering called “Rich Media Production” (NMIX 4310/6310), and it passed but not without discussion.
“I have no idea what this course is about,” said journalism professor Bill Lee.
“They learn to get rich using the interwebs,” said Patricia Thomas, also on the journalism faculty.
The faculty unanimously approved a new “Sports and Social media” course that will be part of Grady’s new Sports Media certificate program that is open to all UGA undergraduates.
Rising numbers of Grady undergraduates are studying abroad in England, Croatia, Prague, and Costa Rica. A new global committee, led by Juan Meng, associate professor of public relations, is working to expand UGA’s study abroad and domestic field study programs.