early voting

Sheriff Ramsey Bennett and Blackshear Police Department Major Robby Boatright are still vying for Pierce County votes for sheriff, and locals can head to the polls next week to cast an early ballot in the run-off election set for Tuesday, August 11.

Early voting for the primary run-off election will be open at 8:30 a.m. Monday, July 20,  and continue through Friday, August 7, at the Pierce County Board of Elections office housed in the Courthouse Annex on Nichols Street. Early voting will be open until 5 p.m. each week day. There will be no Saturday voting day for the run-off.

The sheriff’s race run-off election between Bennett and Boatright appears on the Republican Party ballot. The only other run-off election this August is on the Democratic ballot. Joyce Marie Griggs and Lisa M. Ring are vying for a chance to challenge Congressman Buddy Carter (R-Pooler) for the first district congressional seat.

Bennett finished the June election with 2,259 votes (48.48 percent), approximately 1.5 percent shy of winning the sheriff’s race outright without a run-off. Boatright finished with 1,859 votes (39.18 percent). Neither retired DNR

ranger Gary Simmons nor retired state trooper Greg Stone received enough votes in the primary election to make it into a run-off.

Ring, an educator and 2018 congressional nominee, and veteran Joyce Marie Griggs were neck and neck in the primary election receiving 43.2 percent and 42.6 percent, respectively, of the Democratic vote. Pierce County Democrats preferred Ring, however, who received 173 votes.

Carter fended off two Republican challengers for his seat in the June primary.

COVID-19 (coronavirus) social distancing regulations are still in place for early voting and at Election Day polls. People in the advance voting room are limited to 10 at a time, including poll workers, and everyone must stand six feet apart while checking in and voting. Voters are also required to wear gloves supplied by poll workers for the entire process. Face masks are encouraged, but not mandatory. Poll workers will be wearing masks or face shields.

Anyone who checked ‘disabled’ or ‘elderly’ on their application for an absentee ballot for the June 9 election will automatically receive a run-off ballot in the mail from the Secretary of State’s office.

Other voters interested in voting by mail this election must call the Board of Elections office at 912-449-2028 to request an absentee ballot or make their request online at https://www.mvp.sos.ga.gov. Elections Superintendent Leah Ritch stresses voters must make their request for an absentee ballot as early as possible.

Ritch also discourages voters from canceling their absentees in order to vote in person. Voters canceled 400 absentee ballots in the June primary election in order to cast their vote in person which slowed down the vote tallying process significantly as election officials had to process cancelations while also trying to certify the election.

“On Election Day that caused a little bit of an issue,” Ritch says.

Voters cast absentee ballots in record number earlier this year due to the ongoing threat of COVID-19 after the Secretary of State’s office mailed absentee ballot applications to every registered voter in the state in an attempt to discourage large crowds congregating at the polls. As social distancing measures were relaxed, many of those voters opted to cancel their absentees and vote in person.

With a general election featuring the presidential race between President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate former vice president Joe Biden on the horizon, Pierce Countians aren’t likely to get much reprieve from campaign advertisements. Early voting for the general election will open in October.

See Page 5B in this week's print edition of The Blackshear Times for a sample ballot.