Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Oconee County Voters Stick With Incumbents Over Challengers In Key Local Republican Party Primary Races; Homestead Items Pass

***Barrow Runs Strong In County***

Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell, Commissioner Mark Saxon, and School Board Member Michael Ransom beat back challenges in the Republican Party Primary on Tuesday.

Adam Hammond and Brock Toole won the Republican Party nominations for open posts on the Board of Education. Hammond won convincingly in a three-way race, negating the need for a runoff.

All 10 of the ballot items needed to increase the homestead exemptions in the county and change the way tax relief is provided to seniors also passed handily.

Incumbent Republican Marcus Wiedower easily defeated challenger John Michael Grigsby for the Republican Party Nomination for House District 121.

The only competitive race on the Democratic ballot was for the party’s nomination of a candidate to run against incumbent Republican Congressman Mike Collins. Alexandra “Lexy” Doherty topped Jessica Fore in that race in Oconee County.

In a nominally nonpartisan race, former Democratic Congressman John Barrow received 35.6 percent of the vote in Oconee County against Andrew Pinson, nominated by Republican Brain Kemp, for Supreme Court Judge.

That 35.6 percent figure is higher than the 32.7 percent Democrat Raphael Warnock received in the county in the December 2022 runoff election for U.S. Senator and the 32.4 percent that Democrat Joseph Biden received in the county in 2020.

Barrow had openly campaigned on the issue of reproductive rights.

The day was a particularly pleasing one for Commission Chair Daniell, whose 78.3 percent of the vote was 10 percentage points higher than he received in the primary four years ago.

Daniell also had been the architect of and advocate for the 10 ballot items offering property tax relief.


The Secretary of State election report lists turnout at 19.2 percent, but that figure is based solely on the 5,910 Republican Party ballots cast.

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The Secretary of State Report lists 30,798 Active Voters and uses that as the base for its calculation of turnout.

A total of 7,089 persons cast a ballot in the county in the Supreme Court race between Barrow and Pinson.

Voters who asked for the Democratic, Republican, or Nonpartisan ballot could make a selection in that race.

If that figure is used, turnout was 23.0 percent, though it likely is an underestimate, since some people no doubt stopped voting before they moved that far down the ballot or skipped over it as they moved to following items.

That 23.0 percent compares with 41.9 percent of active voters who cast a ballot in the May 2022, when only one competitive local race was on the Republican Ballot and none were on the Democratic Ballot, and no local referendum was on the ballot.

Based on the vote in the Barrow and Pinson race, 3.5 percent of the ballots were Absentee By Mail, 42.5 percent were Advance In Person, and 54.0 percent were cast on Election Day.

NOTE 5/22/24: The actual turnout figure, released today, was 7,431, for a rate of 24.1 percent. Of those, 3.7 percent were Absentee By Mail, 42.1 percent were Advance In Person, and 54.2 percent were cast on election day.

Competitive Republican Races

In the Republican Party Primary for the Board of Commissioners Chair, Daniell received 78.3 percent of the vote to 21.7 percent for Pam Hendrix, who had organized a six-candidate slate for the primaries.

Daniell received 68.2 percent of the vote in a three-way race in 2020 against Carol Bennett and Johnny Pritchett.

Mark Saxon, who currently holds Post 4 on the Board of Commissioners, received 82.8 percent of the vote to 17.3 percent of the vote for Victoria Cruz, a member of the slate organized by Hendrix.

In the Republican Primary for the open Post 5 on the Board of Education, Brock Toole received 69.7 percent of the vote, and Stephen Aleshire, another of the slate organized by Hendrix, received 30.3 percent of the vote.

The other members of the Choices 4 Oconee 2024 slate, Suzannah Heimel, Laura King, and Sheri Ward, ran unopposed in the Democratic Primary, for Post 1 on the Board of Commissioners, Clerk of Superior Court, and Post 4 on the Board of Commissioners.

Michael Ransom received 78.1 percent of the vote in the race for Post 1 Chair of the Board of Education to 21.9 percent for Joyce Reifsteck. Ransom currently holds Post 5 on the Board of Education and switched to run for Post 1 Chair after Kim Argo announced she would not seek re-election.

Adam Hammond received 70.1 percent of the vote in the Post 4 race, followed by 15.9 percent for Andy Pippin and 14.0 percent for Russell Toms.

Hammond will meet Long in the November election, and Toole will meet Katie Green, who ran unopposed for the Post 5 nomination in the Democratic Primary.

Green is being supported by the local Democratic Party leadership, while Long is not.

Wiedower received 83.2 percent of the vote in the Republican Primary for House District 121, compared with 16.8 percent for John Michael Grigsby.

Democratic Ballot

Doherty received 54.0 percent of the vote in Oconee County, and Fore receive 46.0 percent in the only competitive race on the Democratic Party ballot.

The Oconee County Democratic Party recruited and supported two candidates, Green and Reginald Wade. Wade is running for Sheriff against incumbent Republican James Hale.

Wade, unopposed, received 1,073 votes, and Green, running for Post 5 on the Board of Education, received 1,062.

But the three candidates who qualified as Democrats without any party support received only marginally fewer votes than Green and Wade.

King, running unopposed for Clerk of Superior Court, received 924 votes.

Heimel, running for Post 1 on the Board of Commissioners, received 889.

And Ward, running for Post 4 on the Board of Education, received 911.

Party Chair Harold Thompson had asked Democrats to skip past the names of King, Heimel, and Ward on the ballot.

Ballot Items

The 10 ballot items used language that suggests little about what a vote for or against actually produced.

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The number of people voting on the items varied quite widely, as did the level of support.

A total of 6,845 voters made a selection of Yes or No on Item 2, while only 4,564 voted on Item 8.

The four items with a negative introductory words, Repeal and Close, were among those with the least support.

 The four items getting more than 80 percent of the vote all had Provide as a leading word.

Support for Item 7, which produced the biggest change by eliminating one of the existing senior programs, received the lowest level of support, suggesting some knowledge of the importance of that item.

At present, those persons 65 years old or older with an annual household income of $59,184 and who applied for and were judged eligible for the benefit, pay no property taxes at all.

In 2023, 653 households qualified for that exemption.

Those persons will continue to receive that exemption as long as they remain eligible, but Item 7 on the ballot closed off applications at the end of this year for that exemption.

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