Columbia County's Elections Director Deborah Marshal predicted 1,000 or so people would take advantage of early voting this past week. Instead, more than 4,000 voted early, and combined with the absentee votes, one-sixth of Columbia County's registered voters had already voted before Tuesday.
I wasn't one of them. Call me hopelessly romantic -- if anything involving politics can even remotely be romantic -- but there's still something important about joining the throngs at the polls on election day that I wouldn't miss.
Besides: It's fun to drive past all the sign-waving volunteers on the way into the precinct. Only Chuck Pardue's folks were waving signs during early voting.
There were no sign-wavers the first time I voted in a General Election. That was in the courthouse in Appling 1980. The big election year was Ronald Reagan vs. Jimmy Carter; In Columbia County, Reagan won 55-44 percent.
That election was the first in which the county switched to the portable punch-card machines.
I liked the previous system, though; it was a real voting booth. You walked in, pulled a handle to close the curtain behind you and flipped little toggle switches by the candidates of choice. When you had all the levers flipped the way you wanted them, you pulled the big handle back up; it cast the ballot and opened the curtain at the same time.
There's something symbolic about pulling that big lever to vote, like operating a slot machine. Come to think of it, elections are sometimes our biggest gamble, and we stand to lose a lot more than just money.
We don't have those machines any more, but I suppose our new electronic voting machines are a lot like video poker. And this morning we're all waking up to find out how our hands played out.
Turkey Fest coming
Feeling charitable? It's the time of year when requests start to roll in for help in holiday fund-raisers. The latest to get me on the hook is the Junior League, which has me waiting tables Friday night at the Boathouse in Augusta.
No, I don't know what I did to deserve it.
It will be good practice, though: The big date comes up Nov. 22, when the wonderful folks at The Peppermill in Evans hold the third annual Turkey Fest to raise money for the Golden Harvest Food Bank.
Columbia County Emergency Services Director Pam Tucker does an incredible job of lining up "celebrity" waiters for this event, which serves free Thanksgiving meals in return for tips to benefit Golden Harvest.
Last year there were so many servers that the diners could scarcely set down their tea glass without getting a refill. This year they've even added an evening session to give school officials an opportunity to serve.
And it really is an opportunity, and a privilege. The owners of Peppermill donate all the food for the event; being asked to give up a little time to help out is an honor.
Time to light the tree
It's an honor, too, to once again be among those organizing Christmas in America, the lighting of Columbia County's official Christmas tree. The fourth-annual event will begin with Santa's arrival by fire truck at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 4, and continue with music, food, Christmas vendors and fun until 7 p.m. All of it takes place in front of the courthouse in Evans.
We anticipate that in a couple of years the event will move behind the courthouse, to the new amphitheater. This year's Light the Tree campaign (there's a form available by request at email@example.com, or in the print version of The News-Times) is helping to raise funds for that planned move, which likely will include planting a new -- and bigger -- Christmas tree.
Put it on your calendar. You won't want to miss it.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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