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Cox hopes to end election daze

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Exercising your right to vote shouldn't mean standing in line for two hours.

Secretary of State Cathy Cox hopes to relegate such Election Day waits to the history books by opening polls two weeks before each election.

She proposed such a plan during the 1999 and 2000 legislative sessions, but the legislation got hung up on a constitutional issue. Counties with fewer than 50,000 registered voters would have been allowed to have shorter hours at their offices, a step that would have saved them money. Problem was, Georgia's constitution prohibits tailoring voting opportunities to a county's size.

Cox is confident her proposal, to be reintroduced this coming legislative session, can be modified to meet constitutional muster and that Georgia will join 16 other states that have already instituted early voting. In those states, about 30 percent of voters cast their ballots before Election Day, says Cox spokeswoman Cara Jones Sinkule.

Early voting would help thin out the crowds at the polls, dispelling the discouragement that drives some would-be voters away. It would also help cut down on the number of absentee ballots that are acquired but never mailed. More importantly, it might expedite a final tally and, no matter who you voted for, the 2000 general election was a clear illustration of how much we need that.

High turnout created particularly long lines at metro Atlanta polling places this year, drawing complaints from ordinary voters and calls for investigation. More than 66 percent, or 2.6 million, of the state's 3.8 million registered voters cast their ballots -- not the highest percentage of registered voters to ever vote in the state, but the largest number ever. The highest percentage of voters ever, a little more than 72 percent, was in the 1992 presidential election -- which Bill Clinton won.

Much credit for this year's high turnout goes to the "Motor Voter" program begun in 1995, which automatically registers residents to vote when they get or renew their drivers' licenses. In its first year, the program increased voter registration by 25 percent, adding 750,000 new voters to the registrars' roles.

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