Runoff attracting early voters
US senate, PSC, court, city races may see 40 percent turnout

LAWRENCEVILLE - Enid Barnwell has already cast her ballot.

The 79-year-old Stone Mountain woman didn't want to miss her chance to vote for change for the second time in a month - and she wants to set up a Democratic Congress for the first black president when he takes office in January.

"I want a Democrat to get in all over," Barnwell said as she left the Gwinnett Elections Office, casting an early ballot in the Tuesday ballot, which could determine whether Democrats have a filibuster-proof 60th seat in the U.S. Senate.

With a Minnesota race still undetermined, incumbent Republican Saxby Chambliss and Democrat Jim Martin have been waging a runoff battle for the Georgia seat.

The runoff has brought national political figures from Bill Clinton and Al Gore to John McCain and Rudy Giuliani to the Peach State, and Gwinnett Elections Director Lynn Ledford said it has brought a surprising surge to the polls.

"I don't mind coming back," to the polls, Barnwell said.

While the crowds have paled compared to the general election, people have waited in brief lines to vote early, and Ledford said absentee ballot applications have come in at more than double the rate of a typical runoff.

Through Tuesday, 11,148 people voted in person and 7,685 of 17,960 absentee ballots had been returned. Ledford said nearly 9,000 absentee ballot applications were rejected because people had failed to sign cards sent by the GOP.

But the numbers, she said, could indicate about a 40 percent turnout, which was the percentage that came back to the polls for the last controversial Senate runoff in 1992, when Paul Coverdell beat Wyche Fowler after coming in second during the general election.

Tuesday's ballots will also determine a Public Service Commissioner race between Democrat Jim Powell and Republican Lauren "Bubba" McDonald and a Georgia Court of Appeals race between Sara Doyle and Mike Sheffield.

Lilburn man Michael Shapiro said it was the judicial race that had him casting his ballot early. "What's important to me is getting the system more efficient," he said.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. throughout Gwinnett.

In Norcross, voters can also go to City Hall to cast ballots in two city council races. There, runoffs will be held between Ross Kaul and Michelle Crofton and between Andrew Hixson and Jan McKinney.