Not so long ago, absentee voters had to sign an oath that they wouldn't be able to come to the polls on election day before they were allowed to cast an absentee ballot.
The state eased that restriction a couple of years ago, making it easier to cast a ballot early at the elections office as an absentee voter. Now, they've taken the next step and simply call the whole in-office process early voting.
And believe it or not, that process starts Monday.
That means voters all over Georgia can go into their elections offices starting Monday morning and cast a ballot in the Nov. 4 election.
That's the case in Columbia County too, of course, where early voting starts at 8 a.m. Monday. Voters can cast their ballots not just in the upcoming elections, but can voice their opinions on the county's special purpose local option sales tax referendum and on a bond referendum for funding an aquatics and tennis center.
Elections officials like the early vote because they anticipate larger-than-usual crowds on Nov. 4 for the presidential elections. County Elections Director Deborah Marshall points out that early voting will spread those crowds over a longer period.
But a couple of words of caution about early voting.
There still are 45 days until the General Election. Many things could happen during that time - revelation of a scandal by one of the candidates, a surprising shift in position, a campaign-trail meltdown - that could make a voter regret the early trip to the polls.
Likewise, county officials this past week just rolled out an explanatory dog-and-pony show to provide information about the sales tax and bond referendums.
Now, by law the county can't spend any money to promote passage of the referendums. But there's no prohibition against them holding public meetings to provide information - which, understandably, put their proposals in the rosiest possible light.
The county held two information sessions last week. More are coming each Tuesday in October - after voting has already started.
There's a tremendous amount of money at stake. The SPLOST vote would generate as much as $180 million, while the bond referendum would raise taxes to pay for an $18 million pool and tennis facility. Voters owe it to themselves to hear what the county has to say about the proposals before making a decision.
If the information changes anyone's mind, there's still plenty of time to reflect that in a vote - all the way up to Nov. 4.
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