Cartersville voted on school board seats and several cities chose elected officials but a countywide Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax extension and alcohol referendums brought out the voters.
"I was very pleased with the turnout yesterday. My workers handled the crowds -- the ones that had crowds -- very, very well," said Bartow County Elections Supervisor Joseph Kirk, adding that turnout was seen at the polls, not in advance. "Voter turnout was a lot better than I expected. We didn't see many people during the early voting period, didn't send many absentee ballots out."
Alcohol referendums and SPLOST created a unique situation for election officials, having to incorporate additional questions into what is typically a municipal-only election. This year, SPLOST votes across the county may have added confusion for some, with White and Emerson voting in separate locations for county and city ballots, but the SPLOST extension also may have helped increase turnout. Without referencing past data, Kirk believes Tuesday's turnout could be the highest of its kind.
"I think a lot of what drove those numbers up, besides the SPLOST, were the alcohol questions. I know a lot of people were fired up about that and one way or the other wanted their opinion to be heard," Kirk said.
Turnout could also be affected by national trends evidenced in a growing political division between parties and new voters taking a more active role in politics since the 2008 election of President Barack Obama. With optimism for increased participation, Kirk noted turnout numbers represent only registered voters.
"I'm hoping that we're seeing the beginning of a trend -- that we're going to stop saying that 10 percent is a good turnout," Kirk said. "And keep in mind when I say that, that's 10 percent of registered voters not 10 percent of people who could be registered to vote. If you think about census numbers, we only have a fraction of people who could be registered to vote on our roles ... 10 percent turnout is really more like 5 percent turnout."
Voter turnout in the city of Kingston, however, was high -- pulling in more than 50 percent of registered voters. Kingston boasted the most robust ballot Tuesday with four questions pertaining to alcohol sales, two council seats and mayor.
"The [Kingston] city voters wanted their voices to be heard this time," Kirk said. "The big things there, of course, were the alcohol questions and the mayor's race was quite spirited."
With the 2011 election cycle nearing completion -- results are still unofficial and will be certified Monday -- the 2012 elections are entering the horizon. Georgia's presidential primary will be held March 6, the general statewide primary on July 31 and a busy general election will be held on Nov. 6.
Kirk expects a large turnout for the 2012 general elections in which voters will decide upon the country's next president, U.S. Congress and county commissioner.
"It's going to be busy. I'll go ahead and say it -- vote early ... because we're going to get overrun on election day, same thing happened in 2008," Kirk said. "I expect to see all those folks again that were coming out that were first-time voters that year plus all the conservative voters that don't normally come out to vote."