By Kevin Hogencamp
Dougherty County elections officials will discuss and perhaps decide Wednesday whether to provide the opportunity for residents to vote on Saturdays this fall, a measure strongly opposed by Georgia House of Representatives candidate Karen Kemp of Albany.
Saturday voting is being considered in response to a request by Dr. Constance Burkes, the Dougherty County Democratic Party chairperson, who is seeking to increase electoral participation
The Albany/Dougherty County Board of Registration and Elections will consider the matter at 4 p.m. Wednesday in room 120 of the Government Center, 222 Pine Ave.
Dougherty County elections Supervisor Ginger Nickerson says she is calculating the cost of adhering to Burkes’ request and will present the information to the elections board on Wednesday. She said that her office is prepared to provide Saturday voting if it is given the funds to make it happen. The initiative must be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice, which has approved Saturday voting in at least seven other Georgia counties, including Sumter, Muscogee, Fulton and Muscogee.
Nickerson noted that Muscogee County has extenuating circumstances because budget cuts prompted the reduction of precincts in the county from 48 to 28.
“She is trying to test the voters with hopes that it turns out well,” Nickerson said of the Muscogee County elections supervisor.
Dougherty County has 28 voting precincts.
Early voting began statewide last week. In Dougherty County, about 400 people cast early ballots, including about 100 on Thursday. The participation thus far is much greater than during the July elections, but less than during some previous elections, Nickerson said.
Karen Kemp, a Republican who is challenging longtime Democratic incumbent Winfred Dukes for the House District 150 seat, said Burkes’ request is gamesmanship and that public funds would be wasted if it is approved.
“A Democrat-driven proposal to open Saturday voting in Dougherty County will do nothing more than increase election costs and waste taxpayer funds,” Kemp said. “There are already 45 days of early voting available in addition to easy access to absentee ballots. There are hundreds of hours in which anyone can participate, and that doesn’t even include the 12 hours we all have to cast ballots on election day. Saturday hours will not make a difference.”
Kemp said requesting Saturday voting is a desperate act on behalf of Democrats seeking to drive turnout for their candidates.
“Careful budgeting is completed in advance to accommodate early voting and election-day activities, not last-minute or arbitrary choices to tack on extra days,” Kemp said. “The signs of a depressed economy are all around us, and the wise use of taxpayer dollars has never been more imperative. We simply cannot afford the costs of adding Saturday voting when ample voting opportunities already exist for every registered voter.
“I am asking all involved authorities to decline this request of special favor for the Democrat Party as a taxpayer and resident concerned about how my taxes are spent. This is just another example of how Democrats are seeking to change the rules midstream to benefit their cause. We literally cannot afford to play their games.”
Early voting in Dougherty County will continue from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Friday, Oct. 29 in room 220 of the Government Center, 222 Pine Ave. Also, early votes may be cast from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 25-29 at the Candy Room at 125 Pine Ave.
Wednesday’s election board meeting is open to the public. For information, call the election office at 431-3247.