election preview

Early voting turnout for run-off higher in first two weeks than in June primary

The finish line is in sight.

The race to determine who will be Pierce County’s sheriff for the next four years will be decided in the primary run-off election Tuesday, August 11.

More than 1,300 have voted early in the run-off election for Pierce County Sheriff, and 648 have already mailed in an absentee ballot. Early voting polls, housed at the Pierce County Board of Elections office on Nichols Street, will remain open through 5 p.m. this Friday, August 7.

Sheriff Ramsey Bennett and Blackshear Police Department Major Robby Boatright have been embroiled in a heated run-off race since June when Bennett finished with 48.48 percent of the vote, approximately 1.5 percent shy of winning the race outright. Boatright finished with 39.18 percent. Neither retired DNR ranger Gary Simmons nor retired state trooper Greg Stone received enough votes in the primary election to make it into the run-off.

As of Friday, 1,359 registered voters had cast an in-person ballot during the first two weeks of advance voting, just 27 ballots short of total early voting turnout for the June primary election when 1,386 Pierce Countians voted early in person.

A record number of 2,355 absentee ballots were cast in the primary election after Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger mailed absentee ballot applications to every registered voter in the state as COVID-19 (coronavirus) threatened to delay the election.

Anyone who checked ‘disabled’ or ‘elderly’ on their application for an absentee ballot in the June 9 primary automatically received a run-off ballot in the mail as well, but absentee ballots returned so far reflect just 27 percent of the number submitted in June.

Pierce County Board of Elections officials say early voting turnout has been “steady” so far with turnout only falling below 100 one day in the last two weeks, and there was bad weather that day. Friday afternoon, 103 voters had cast a ballot with three hours remaining before polls closed for the day.

Aside from the sheriff’s run-off, the only other election appears on the Democratic ballot. Joyce Marie Griggs and Lisa M. Ring are vying for a chance to challenge Congressman Buddy Carter (R-Pooler) for the first district congressional seat.

Ring, an educator and 2018 congressional nominee, and veteran Joyce Marie Griggs were neck and neck in the primary election receiving 43.2 percent and 42.6 percent, respectively, of the Democratic vote. Pierce County Democrats preferred Ring, however, who received 173 votes.

Voting has progressed fairly smoothly through the run-off  — even with a new voting system and additional polling place protocols to slow the spread of COVID-19  — but the Elections Office did have to report one incident to the Secretary of State’s office for investigation last week.

Curt Henderson, a voter who cast his first ever in-person ballot last week, used his cell phone to take a photo of his ballot screen and post it to social media. Another social media user also used Henderson’s photo in a social media post, criticising Henderson’s actions. Henderson removed his post when notified it violated state voting regulations and apologized to Ritch. Henderson also called The Times last week to apologize for his action.

Early voting COVID-19 protocol: COVID-19 (coronavirus) social distancing regulations are still in place for early voting and at Election Day polls. People in the advance voting room are limited to 10 at a time, including poll workers, and everyone must stand six feet apart while checking in and voting. Voters are also required to wear gloves supplied by poll workers for the entire process. Face masks are encouraged, but not mandatory. Poll workers will be wearing masks or face shields.

Early voting continues this week through Friday, August 7, 8:30 a.m. - 5 p.m. at the Courthouse Annex on Nichols Street. Election Day polls, Tuesday, August 11, will be open from 7 a.m. - 7 p.m. at the Southeast Regional Agricultural Center (SEGARAC) on College Avenue in Blackshear and at Eagle Station on Williams Street in Patterson.