Malone, Rozier, Wilson win

Sheriff Ramsey Bennett and Blackshear Police Major Robby Boatright will go head to head in a run off election August 11, but all other local primary races were settled in last Tuesday’s general primary election.  

The sheriff’s race generated the most interest during the campaign season, as it marked the first time in recent history there has been a four-way race for sheriff.

Boatright led the race by about 182 votes when early returns were posted Tuesday night. Boatright built a small lead when the Gym at the Southeast Georgia Regional Agriculture Center (SEGARAC) and Eagle Station returns were posted, but Bennett closed the gap to within 84 votes when advanced voting tallies were posted. When the absentees were tallied and final results were posted with the clock approaching midnight, Bennett  ran away with those tallies 1,149 to 632 and built a 400 vote lead. In final results, he finished with 2,259 votes (48.48 percent). Bennett was about 1.5 percent shy of winning the race outright without a run-off.

Boatright finished with 1,859 votes (39.18 percent).

Former state trooper Greg Stone received 384 votes (8.24 percent) while former Department of Natural Resources Ranger Gary Simmons received 191 votes (4.10 percent).

The use of new voting machines coupled with the delay in both the presidential primary and general primary, extra precautions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and nearly triple the volume of absentee ballots led to lengthy delays in posting final results.

Last week’s election was initially set for Tuesday, May 19, but was postponed due to COVID-19.

The presidential preference primary, initially set for March 24, was also part of Tuesday’s vote. A number of state and federal offices were also on the ballot Tuesday. (See related stories.)

The election also marked the first state-wide test of Georgia’s new voting machines, which include touchscreen machines and scanners hailed by officials as a secure, paper-based voting process. Myriad problems and delays were reported mostly in the Atlanta Metro area with Republicans and Democrats blaming each other for the problems even before the balloting concluded Tuesday.

Local elections supervisor Leah Ritch reported no problems here with the machines, though she did say there was a learning curve to get use to them, coupled with the complications with the virus precautions, and volume of absentees made for a very long and frustrating day.

Tallies were delayed by about 200 ballots that were rejected by the counting machine due to stray marks, improperly filled out or spoiled ballots.

Poll officials reported at least two ballots with what appeared to be drink stains, one with fingerprint smudges and several that were wadded up or torn. Among other issues were ballots marked with checks and ‘X’s’ and not bubbled in properly. Other ballots had two or three candidates marked for the same office and some had write-in candidates for local offices who were residents of other counties.

Those ballots had to be re-run or hand counted.

In the only other county-wide race, incumbent coroner William Wilson easily won re-election over two challengers, former coroner, former county commissioner and former BOE member William K. “Bill” Cselle and nurse Mandy Alvey-Smith. Wilson received 3,205 votes (66.85 percent) winning the race outright without a run-off. Cselle was second with 842 (18.61 percent) and Alvey-Smith was third with 658 (14.54 percent).

Voters in district one had a choice for both their county commission and school board races. District one includes the Hacklebarney/Cason areas.

In the only other partisan race, first district commissioner Harold Rozier Jr. easily won the Republican nomination, fending off a challenge by Retired GBI agent and farmer Weyland Yeomans. Rozier received 679 (63.84 percent) to Yeomans’ 379 (36.16 percent).

Rozier will face local contractor Tyrone Harris in the general election in November.

Harris was unopposed for the Democratic nomination receiving 222 votes in district one. He is the first Democrat to qualify for local office since 2010.

In the district one school board race, realtor Kirby Malone won election to the seat avoiding a run-off in a three-way race.

Malone received 759 votes (58.84), while counselor Thomansine McGauley Ricks received 333 (25.81 percent) and retired law enforcement officer Steve Whitehead received 198 votes (15.35 percent).

Malone will be sworn in to office in January and will succeed current district one representative Jack Saussy. Saussy did not run for re-election.

Turnout was just 40 percent, significantly lower than the 54.1 percent turnout in July 2012, the last time there was a contested race for sheriff. Among those who turned out, Pierce County remained deep red with about 4,660 Republican ballots cast compared to just 425 Democrats.

A number of incumbents ran unopposed and will be sworn in to new terms in January 2021. They include  Clerk of Court Thomas W. Sauls, Tax Commissioner Terresa Davis, Surveyor Stephen Duncan, Magistrate Judge Glenda Dowling and Probate Judge Moye Howard. Sauls will begin his sixth term and Davis and Duncan their third terms in January. Dowling was first elected to fill an unexpired term in 1989 and has been re-elected seven times. Howard is currently completing his second term. Sauls, Davis and Duncan are Republicans. The Magistrate and Probate Judge positions are nonpartisan.

In district three, county commissioner Randy Dixon and school board member Chip Griner ran unopposed. Dixon has served for 14 years. Griner will begin serving his second term in January. Dixon is a Republican. School board seats are nonpartisan. District three includes the Otter Creek and St. Johns Blackshear areas.