The results of the election in Oconee County last week do not follow a simple narrative.
Voters gave their strongest support to Post 2 Board of Education candidate Amy Parrish, an incumbent Republican who was unapologetic about her vote for the School Board’s request for a nearly 10 percent increase in property taxes.
Oconee voters gave their second strongest support to Republican Post 3 Board of Education candidate Ryan Hammock, who was muted in his criticism of the Board of Education.
Voters decided, albeit by a narrow margin, to add a penny in sales tax on almost everything purchased in the county, effective in April, to fund road repaving, intersection improvements, multi-use paths, and a property tax rebate. The total tax will increase to 8 cents on the dollar.
That tax referendum was on the ballot because of a unanimous endorsement by the Board of Commissioners, all of whom are Republicans, and two of whom had no Republican opposition in the May primaries. They were unopposed in the election last Tuesday.
While Republican Brian Kemp and Herschel Walker did much better in Oconee County than they did statewide, the gap between Kemp’s vote in the gubernatorial race in Oconee County and Walker’s lower vote percentage in the Senate race was considerably greater in Oconee County than it was statewide.
The local Democratic Party chose not to run any candidates in the four county races on the ballot, and the percentage of vote for Democratic candidates across the ballot in Oconee County was lower than in 2018.
Although turnout in early voting for last week’s election ran ahead of early voting in 2018, and absentee voting increased as well, election day voting was down sharply in 2022. The result was a nearly 1 percent drop in turnout last week versus 2018.
The newly constituted Oconee County Board of Elections and Registration on Monday certified these results of the Nov. 8 vote in Oconee County.
School Board Race
The two races for the School Board were contested by Independents Ryan Repetske (Post 2) and Melissa Eagling (Post 3).
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Repetske got only 21.7 percent of the vote, to Parrish’s 78.3 percent, while Eagling got 23.2 percent of the vote, to Hammock 76.8 percent.
Eagling and Hammock were competing for the seat made vacant when Wayne Bagley decided not to seek re-election.
In responses to questions I asked for a Voters Guide, Parrish defended the property tax of 9.8 percent that the Board of Education first proposed before reducing it to 4.7 percent under pressure from citizens.
Repetske and Eagling were critical of the Board, while Hammock said he could not support the Board action without having more information.
At a debate organized by the Oconee County Republican Party, Parrish again defended the tax increase, while Repetske did not.
Vote Levels Compared
The percentage of votes for Parrish and Hammock stand out in comparison with how other candidates performed locally in last week’s election.
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Republican State School Superintendent Richard Woods was the next highest candidate on the Oconee County ballot after Hammock in terms of percent of vote received, with 75.0 percent.
Kemp received 73.6 percent of the vote, and Walker 65.9 percent of the vote.
When the Oconee County Republican Party held its Election Rally on Oct. 17, in didn’t even include Parrish and Hammock as guest speakers, though it did give time to Harden and Horton, who were running unopposed.
Parrish did have one significant advantage.
Oconee County Schools put out a news release announcing her decision to run for re-election. It included an endorsement from Board Chair Kim Argo.
That news release remained on the Oconee County Schools web site throughout the campaign and is there now.
Performance Of Independents
Repetske and Eagling could have run as Democrats or Republicans. They said they chose to run as Independents because they viewed the work of the School Board as nonpartisan.
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In the end, Repetske with 21.7 percent of the vote and Eagling with 23.2 percent underperformed not only in comparison with the two Republicans on the ballot but also in comparison with Democrats in recent School Board elections.
In 2018, Andrea Wellnitz received 26.4 percent of the vote in a race against Parrish, then also an incumbent, for Post 2 on the Board, and Fran Thompson received 26.7 percent in the Post 3 race with then incumbent Argo. Wellnitz and Thompson ran as Democrats.
In 2020, Democrat Laura Williams Ormes received 28.5 percent of the vote against incumbent Republican Tim Burgess for Post 4 on the Board, while Democrat Joan Parker received 29.6 percent of the vote in a race for open Post 5 against Republican Michael Ransom.
Role Of Democrats
Democratic Party members helped Eagling and Repetske obtain the signatures needed to get their names on the ballot, and the chair of the Democratic Party even turned in the signed petitions for verification.
Once the two were on the ballot, however, the Party didn’t support them openly and didn’t contribute funds to their campaigns.
The Republican Party, through its debate, gave the two Independents more exposure than they received elsewhere in the campaign, though the party leadership did forbid video recording of the event and never mentioned it on its web site once it took place.
In the end, the vote totals suggest that some people who voted Democratic in other races voted for the Republican School Board candidates or didn’t vote in those races at all.
In raw numbers, Parrish received 16,775 votes in Oconee County, and Hammock received 16,480.
By comparison, Kemp received 16,553 votes.
Eagling received 4,989 votes, and Repetske received 4,662.
By comparison, Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams received 5,783 votes, and down ballot candidate William Boddie for Labor Commissioner received 5,714 votes.
It is at least possible that the lack of local Democratic candidates contributed to the poor performance of the Party in Oconee County in 2022 versus 2018.
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In every race for which there is an appropriate comparison, the Democratic percentage was lower in 2022 than it was in 2018.
Abrams, for example, received 29.0 percent of the Oconee County vote in 2018, and 25.7 percent in 2022, or a difference of 3.3 percent.
Democrat John Barrow, running for secretary of state against Brad Raffensperger in 2018, received 30.7 percent of the vote in Oconee County. Bee Nguyen received only 23.7 percent of the Oconee County vote in 2022, or a 7.0 percentage points less.
Democrat Marisue Hilliard received 28.1 percent of the vote against incumbent Republican Bill Cowsert in the 46th District Senate race in 2018, and Andrew Ferguson, the Democratic Party candidate in 2022, received 26.8 percent, or a difference of 1.3 percent.
By contrast, Oconee County Democrats had a comparatively strong year in 2020.
Democrat Joe Biden received 32.4 percent of the vote in Oconee County in 2020, compared with Republican Donald Trump’s 65.9 percent.
Trump’s 65.9 percent is an exact match with Walker’s 65.9 percent in Oconee County on Tuesday, while Warnock’s 31.4 percent was a percentage point behind Biden’s figure.
Across the state, Walker was only 4.9 percentage points behind Kemp, while that difference in Oconee County was 7.8 percent.
In 2022, advance in person voting made up 66.0 percent of the total votes cast, and absentee voting by mail made up 5.5 percent of the 22,525 votes cast.
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Election day voting was only 28.5 percent of the votes cast.
In 2018, advance voting had been 56.3 percent of the votes case, and absentee by mail had been 4.5 percent.
Election day voting in 2018 was 39.1 percent of the 20,799 votes cast.
Final turnout in 2022 was 74.7 percent of the 30,164 active registered voters.
In 2018, final turnout was 75.5 percent of the 27,538 active voters.
Mode And Vote
Kemp did best with election day voting, getting 77.9 percent of the vote. He received 73.6 percent of the advance in person votes, and 51.5 percent of the absentee votes.
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Walker also did best in election day voting, with 68.8 percent of the vote. He had 66.7 percent in advance in person voting, and only 41.5 percent of the absentee voting.
In 2018, Kemp also did best with election day voting (71.4 percent), followed by advance in person (69.8 percent), and then absentee voting (55.5 percent).
It seems the Republican efforts to restrict absentee voting by making applications more difficult and eliminating external drop boxes did not result in lower use of the ballots in 2022 versus 2018 or decrease the preference of Democratic voters for that mode of voting.
The vote on the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax varied relatively little by mode of vote, despite the partisan differences in preferences.
In election day voting, 49.2 percent of the voters approved of the tax. In advanced in-person voting, 52.4 percent approved. Among those using absentee ballots, 49.4 percent approved.
The county will start collecting the tax in April, and county property owners will experience a 1 mill decrease in their property taxes with the bill due in November of next year.
Board Certification And Video
The newly constituted Oconee County Board of Elections and Registration met at 5 p.m. on Monday at the Elections Office, 10 Court Street, opposite the Courthouse in Watkinsville.
Newly appointed Board Chair Jay Hanley welcomed newly appointed member Shami Jones to the Board.
The Board received the tabulations from the vote counts from the Nov. 8 elections from Sharon Gregg, Director of Elections and Registration for Oconee County, and then voted to certify the results.
In other action, the Board voted to elect Kirk Shook, the Republican Party member of the Board, as vice chair.
Gregg told the Board that early voting for the Dec. 6 runoff between Walker and Warnock will be from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Nov. 28 to Dec. 2 at the Civic Center, 2661 Hog Mountain Road, west of Butler’s Crossing.
Neither Walker nor Warnock received the required majority to avoid the runoff.
All eight of the county’s polling places will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Dec. 6 for election day voting, Gregg said.
The video below is of that meeting.