With only a handful of absentee-by-mail and provisional ballots outstanding, 23,738 votes in Bartow County had been tallied hours after polls closed Tuesday -- 47.9 percent of the county's 49,523 registered voters.
The turnout was Bartow's highest midterm election participation rate in a decade, Bartow County Election Supervisor Joseph Kirk said late Tuesday, with the last such election in 2006 garnering a 45 percent turnout. This year's rate also approached the 50 percent prediction Kirk had made in the weeks leading to election day.
"If you look at the statistics, the turnouts for presidential and gubernatorial elections are steadily going up," Kirk said. "We had a very low early turnout based on a 50 percent turnout -- I don't know quite what that number was, but it was a lot lower than I hoped for -- and it put a lot of pressure on the poll managers today, but they handled it admirably."
Kirk said a few of the county's voting precincts still had a line of voters when polls were set to close at 7 p.m.; election officials must allow those in line at the closing time to cast a ballot before shutting down voting machines. He added that he believed the last voter reached a machine in Euharlee right before 7:30 p.m.
Kirk said he believed turnout numbers were boosted by voters interested in the political process.
"We've heard a lot of discussion this election," he said. "I always say that I do find it sad that I'm saying a 50 percent turnout is good, and that's just of the registered voters, not those who could register to vote. With all the talk of this election, I think it got a lot of people out to vote that have never voted before, that were registered but never exercised that right. I met a lot of first-time voters this time, and I was happy to see them out."
But to J.M. Prince, chairman of the Bartow County Democratic Party, part of the high turnout may have been based on emotions.
"We've had just more people coming out to vote to express their anger and frustration," Prince said. "When you have more people who are angry and frustrated, they're going to come to the polls and throw the bums out. I just wish they had thrown more of the existing bums out and not left some of them standing."
The high local turnout only seemed to benefit Republican candidates, as Bartow voters in partisan state races leaned heavily in the GOP's favor -- most races had 70 percent or more votes going to that party's candidate.
"We definitely hit our goals here in Bartow -- our goal was 70 to 72 percent for the Republican candidates, and we about hit it for every one," said Michael Huneke, chairman of the Bartow County Republican Party, adding that he believed Bartow was a part of the nationwide trend that led to GOP gains in the U.S. House of Representatives and pickups of other offices.
"Generally speaking for Bartow, Bartow's 60 to 65 percent Republican, so for us to score almost 10 points higher than normal goes right along with the fact that we are right with the rest of the nation in that it's time to take back our country," Huneke added. "We need jobs, and one of the things about that is we need to lower our taxes and we need to stop spending so much as a government."
Prince also touched on the economy being a factor in Tuesday's polling.
"It's a dire circumstance, people are angry, people are frustrated, and it's perfectly understandable," he said. "There wasn't a whole lot that was being done to correct the problem quickly enough for enough people to feel it, and that's a perfectly acceptable reason to be ... angry and upset, and it will motivate people to the polls, there's no doubt about it, and you could see that coming a long way off.
"When people are feeling badly in a down economy, it's everywhere, and especially in Georgia -- we felt the bad economy earlier than most states, and it's lingered longer, and it will linger longer," Prince added. "You can't have 10 percent unemployment year after year."
Prince said he believes the state and the country may find itself in no better of an economic situation in the next election cycle, and if that comes to pass, voters will again let their opinions be known.
"I fully expect two years from now, we're going to have the same conversation," he said, "only even more perplexing, because Republicans are going to be on it, and maybe the Libertarians will be up, who knows."
Huneke said his hope for the next political term is that those who took part in the election process this year will remain active in it.
"If people don't start or keep paying attention and stay involved, come January when the session goes back in, we're just going to end up in the same place," he said. "The people need to stay involved, and when the legislators and the state office holders do what we like, we need to write and thank them; when they do what we don't like, we need to let them know that, too. If anything, this should be a wake-up call not only to the elected officials but also to the people at large, that we've got to stay involved and know what they're doing."