A special election this month offers more potential drama than we might wish with a potential runoff, new voting machines and a controversial voter purge.

Colquitt County is split unevenly between Georgia House District 171 in the west and District 172 in the east. District 171 was represented by Jay Powell of Camilla until his death in November; District 172 is represented by Sam Watson of Moultrie.

Early voting begins Monday to select a representative to fill Powell’s unexpired term. The actual election day will be Jan. 28.

Three men are running for the seat: Jewell Howard, of Baconton, a retired educator, is making the run as a Democrat, while two former agricultural businessmen, Tommy Akridge and Joe Campbell, both of Camilla, are running as Republicans.

If none of the candidates receive more than half of the votes cast, a runoff would be held Feb. 25.

When voters go to the polls to vote early, they’ll be among the first Colquitt Countians to use new voting machines that the state purchased last year. Six other counties tested them in November elections. Problems were found that we hope will have been fixed by the time we cast our ballots.

This is also the first election Colquitt County has faced after the purging of 309,000 names from Georgia’s voter rolls; 22,000 of them were restored the day after the purge. 

The purge is part of routine maintenance to ensure people who have died or moved out of a district are removed from the voting rolls. It’s attracted more attention than usual this year because gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams made voting rights an issue after her defeat in 2018.

The purge came only 12 days before the last day an unregistered voter could register and cast a ballot in the Jan. 28 election. In other words, if someone were purged from the voter rolls, they had less than two weeks in which to find out and contest the decision or they wouldn’t be able to participate in the special election.

For voters, we offer some advice that we hope will help the election go smoothly.

• Check ahead of time at the Secretary of State’s My Voter Page, https://www.mvp.sos.ga.gov/MVP/mvp.do. That will make sure you’re registered and make sure whether your district is voting in the special election.

• If your name has been purged, you won’t be able to vote in the special election, but contact the Office of the Registrar at the Courthouse Annex to get reinstated. There are several more elections this year, including a presidential preference primary March 24. You’ll need to be registered by Feb. 24 to be able to vote in it.

• Cast your ballot early. There are seldom lines, and when there are, they’re shorter than on election day.

• Don’t be rushed. There’s only one question on the ballot, but make sure you have time in case there are problems with the voting machines.

We certainly hope everything goes smoothly with this election, but at the worst, this will be a good chance to find problems and fix them ahead of elections that will draw greater turnout later in the year.

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