Advance voting

Ritch urges citizens to ‘vote absentee’

Please vote absentee.

That’s the plea of election officials tasked with operating early voting which is set to open Monday, May 18, at the Pierce County Board of Elections office in the Courthouse Annex on Nichols Street.

Only 10 people will be allowed in the voting room at once, including two poll workers, due to ongoing COVID-19 (coronavirus) restrictions. That only allows for eight voters in the room at one time.

Those who show up to vote early in person will most likely have to line up on the sidewalk while waiting their turn at the ballot box, says Elections Superintendent Leah Ritch.

Those circumstances are not ideal, particularly for the elderly or medically fragile, Ritch adds.

The screening process will include an extra step this election, too, which will only add to the slow down. Poll workers will have to ask voters a series of questions:

1. Did you vote early in the March Presidential Preference Primary (PPP) before polls closed in response to the state’s efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19? If so, your ballot will not include the PPP  — 460 Pierce Countians voted in March before advance voting closed.

2. Did you cast an absentee ballot that now needs to be canceled so you can vote in person?

In addition to the state’s mandate that only 10 people be allowed at the polling location at a time, voters will be required to stand six feet apart and must wear latex gloves which will be provided by election’s staff. Voters are also encouraged to wear face masks.

The office has been overwhelmed with absentee ballot applications and, most recently with a record number of returned ballots, but Ritch still recommends voters consider absentee voting for this election rather than standing in long lines to vote early next week.

“This doesn’t have to be the way forever, but for now please (vote absentee),” Ritch says.

Ritch recommends those who still wish to vote in person mark a copy of the sample ballot and bring it to the polls with them to expedite the voting process. Sample ballots appear on pages 8-9 in this issue of The Times.

Voters must choose a party in the primary election  — Republican, Democratic or Nonpartisan. Those who choose a nonpartisan ballot will not get to vote in any races appearing on the Republican or Democratic ballots.

“That nonpartisan (voter) will not get anything that has a party,” Ritch says.

For instance, the Pierce County Sheriff’s race only appears on the Republican ballot as all candidates qualified to run as Republicans.

Early voting will be open at the Courthouse Annex from 8:30 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday through Friday for three weeks, ending June 5. Saturday voting is set for May 30 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.

The election’s office may extend early voting hours some days, depending on the volume. Watch the Pierce County, Georgia Board of Elections & Registration and The Blackshear Times Facebook pages for daily update on early voting hours, Ritch says.

Election Day is Tuesday, June 9. Polls will open from 7 a.m. - 7 p.m. at Eagle Station in Patterson and the Southeast Georgia Regional Agricultural Center (SEGARAC) in Blackshear.

What’s on the ballot

The June 9 primary election will feature the presidential preference primary originally set for March 24 and the state and local primary contests initially scheduled for May 19.

The four contested county races will be on the ballot in the new June 9 general and nonpartisan primary election.

The marquee race will be the election for Sheriff. Incumbent Ramsey Bennett will be running for a third term. He is being challenged by Major Robby Boatright of the Blackshear Police Department, Retired Department of Natural Resources Ranger Gary Simmons and retired state trooper Greg Stone. All are running as Republicans.

In the only other county-wide race, voters will have three choices for coroner.

Incumbent William Wilson qualified to run for a third term. He is being challenged by Bill Cselle, former deputy coroner, county commissioner and school board member, and Mandy Alvey Smith, a registered nurse. All three are running as Republicans.

Voters in district one will have a choice for both their county commission and school board race. District one includes the Hacklebarney/Cason areas.

Incumbent Harold Rozier Jr. will face a challenge from retired GBI agent Weyland Yeomans for the Republican nomination. The winner of that race will face Democrat Tyrone Harris in the November general election. Harris, a longtime  contractor, is the first Democrat to qualify for local office in Pierce County since 2010.

There will be a three-way race for the district one school board seat.

Realtor Kirby Malone, counselor Thomansine McGauley Ricks and retired law enforcement officer Steve Whitehead signed up to run for the post. Current district one representative Jack Saussy announced prior to qualifying he would not run for another term. The school board is non-partisan.

A number of incumbents  are all running unopposed and will be sworn in to new terms in January 2021. They include  Clerk of Court Thomas W. Sauls, Tax Commissioner Terresa Davis, Surveyor Stephen Duncan, Magistrate Judge Glenda Dowling and Probate Judge Moye Howard. Sauls will begin his sixth term and Davis and Duncan their third terms in January. Dowling was first elected to fill an unexpired term in 1989 and has been re-elected seven times. Howard is currently completing his second term. Sauls, Davis and Duncan are Republicans. The Magistrate and Probate Judge positions are non-partisan.

In district three, county commissioner Randy Dixon and school board member Chip Griner are both running unopposed. Dixon has served for 14 years. He was first elected in a special election in 2006 and has won re-election three times.  Griner will begin serving his second term in January. Dixon is a Republican. School board seats are nonpartisan.

District three includes the Otter Creek and St. Johns Blackshear areas.

Pierce County voters will have a say in the races for U.S. Congress for district one and one of the two U.S. Senate seats up for grabs.

First district Congressman Buddy Carter of Pooler will face two challengers in the Republican primary.

Veteran and businessman Danny Merritt and Savannah resident Ken Yasger both qualified to run against Carter in the Republican primary. The winner will face the Democratic nominee in November. Democrats running include Veteran Joyce Marie Griggs, Educator and 2018 nominee Lisa Ring, and Waycross resident Barbara Seidman.

Senator David Perdue qualified to seek re-election and will be unopposed for the Republican nomination. He will face the winner of the Democratic primary. Candidates for the Democratic nomination include former Lt. Governor candidate Sarah Riggs Amico, healthcare professional Marckeith DeJesus, veteran James Knox, journalist Tricia Carpenter McCracken, journalist and former Congressional candidate John Ossoff, lawyer Maya Dillard Smith and former Columbus Mayor and attorney Teresa Tomlinson. Shane Hazel qualified as a Libertarian.

For a complete listing of statewide races on the ballot see the sample ballots on pages 8-9.