Sunday, August 10, 2008

Oconee Coroner Runoff Outcome Not Simple

More than a Mayberry Effect

Ed Carson defeated Cathleen Quillian-Carr in the Oconee County Republican primary runoff on Tuesday, and Quillian-Carr ended up with the same percentage of votes–46–she got in the July 15 three-way primary.

Despite what The Oconee Enterprise reported this week, however, Carson didn’t win simply by getting the votes of July 15 third place finisher Bill Mayberry.

Only 2,228 people voted in the Aug. 5 runoff, or 63 percent fewer than the 5,978 who voted in the coroner race on July 15. Carson received only 1,200 votes on Tuesday, compared with 1,028 for Quillian-Carr.

On July 15, Carson received 2,129 votes, Quillian-Carr received 2,759, and Mayberry 1,090.

"If the raw numbers alone are an indication," Enterprise reporter Blake Giles wrote in the Aug. 7 edition of the paper, "all of Mayberry’s supporters swung over to Carson."

It is hard to know what "raw numbers" indicate, but it is extremely unlikely that all of Mayberry’s supporters voted for Carson, for that would mean that all but 110 of Carson’s July 15 voters stayed home.

An examination of the distribution of votes in the July 15 and Aug. 5 races across the county’s 13 precincts shows a much more complex story.

In eight of the 13 precincts, Quillian-Carr actually received a higher percentage of the vote in the Aug. 5 race than she did on July 15. There’s no obvious geographic clustering of those eight precincts.

In half of those precincts, the decline in turnout was greater than the overall figure of 63 percent, and in half it was more.

Quillian-Carr was endorsed by incumbent Coroner John Simpson and incumbent Sheriff Scott Berry. Her posters also appeared on many lots owned by developers. Yet she ran strongly in many of the precincts where Sarah Bell, challenger for the Board of Commissioners Chair position, also ran strongly on July 15.

In the large Athens Academy precinct, however, Quillian-Carr got 56 percent of the vote in the three-way race on July 15 and 59 percent on August 5. Bell got only 40 percent of the vote in that precinct against incumbent BOC Chair Melvin Davis on July 15. Davis won overall by only 100 votes.

In the end, about all that can be said about the Aug. 5 election outcome is that Carson won because more of the people who turned out to vote that day wanted him to be coroner. No one is able to say why or how Carson got the extra 172 votes.

While only about one in three of those who voted in the Oconee County Republican primary cared enough about the coroner race to come back in the runoff, those who voted in the July 15 Oconee County Democratic primary were showing considerably more interest in that party’s runoff.

In the July 15 primary, 614 Oconee citizens voted in the five-way race for the party’s U.S. Senate nominee, and 349, or a ratio of six in 10, voted on Aug. 5 for the two-way race between Vernon Jones and Jim Martin. (Registered voters who did not vote in either primary on July 15 were eligible to vote on Aug. 5.)

Martin won locally, as he did statewide, and will face incumbent Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss in November.

For Ed Carson, the contest for coroner if over. Oconee Democrats have come up with only one candidate for county offices.

In November, Rich Clark will compete with Tom Breedlove for Post 5 on the county’s Board of Education.