Warner Robins election recount planned for Friday

chwright@macon.comNovember 6, 2013 

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The absentee votes were the last to be counted and swung the runoff against Randy Toms from against either Daron Lee or Chuck Chalk to solidly against Joe Musselwhite.

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WARNER ROBINS -- A recount of Warner Robins election ballots begins Friday at 10 a.m., though a city official said no inaccuracies are suspected.

Election Superintendent Kathy Cummings made the announcement in an email Wednesday after two candidates said they wanted the Tuesday election results double-checked.

“It was a close race, and there are some rumors going around that have absolutely no truth in them,” Cummings said. “Abundance of caution is always called for, and I want the citizens as well as the candidates to feel confident regarding the election process and outcome.”

Earlier in the day, Bob Wilbanks, whose Post 4 opponent Tim Thomas won the race outright by just one vote, and Councilman Daron Lee, who came in a close-third in the mayor’s race, said they were seeking legal advice about how to call for a recount. Lee said his team noticed at least two major conflicts in the numbers the elections office reported, and a recount could affect other races, as well. The recount procedure requires that all the races are recounted if one is.

“That was a good -- a professional move on their part (that) they (the city) actually took a step in noticing that there was probably a discrepancy on their part,” Lee said.

Lee said if the numbers come out the same Friday, he will be fine with it. Nonetheless, they deserve a second look.

“We already have a concern of integrity of the city, so we don’t want this to be an addition to how people perceive the city,” Lee said. “If the numbers are right and fair, fine. You just want everything to be done right.”

Retired Public Works Director Joe Musselwhite narrowly inched into a mayoral runoff with retired firefighter Randy Toms. While Toms took an early lead Tuesday, Musselwhite ran neck-and-neck with Lee and Robins Air Force Base employee Chuck Chalk for much of the night. In the end, Musselwhite received 22.9 percent, Lee received 22.2 percent and Chalk received 20.8 percent.

“I can’t say I blame him,” Musselwhite said of Lee wanting a recount. “Let ‘em count. Maybe they’ll find out I got more votes.”

Chalk said he isn’t interested in pushing for a recount, but if something is revealed, he will review it then.

“I’ve already decided on my path; I’ve accepted my fate,” Chalk said.

Mark Whitfield, campaign manager for Lee, said the most noticeable problem in the results was a row that calculated the totals for each precinct, absentee ballots and overall turnout. If one adds the numbers in the columns, that sum is not the same as the one in the “totals” row.

“The totals may be wrong, but the results are right,” Cummings said, explaining the spreadsheet formula may have been wrong for the boxes including totals.

In the Post 4 special election, local businessman Thomas beat out his two opponents with exactly what he needed to avoid a runoff: 50 percent of the votes, plus one. Wilbanks said that one vote requires he at least ask for a recount.

“One percent would be one story; one vote is an entirely different one,” Wilbanks said. He added that his request has “nothing to do with anything sinister.”

Wilbanks said “it would be stupid” not to call for a recount. “People would be whispering for years,” he said.

Thomas said he understands Wilbanks’ position and welcomes any results of a recount.

“I would hate for him to go on years from now and wonder,” Thomas said.

Ben Campbell, who was just four votes short of Wilbanks, said he didn’t seek a recount because it seemed Thomas won.

“Even if they (Thomas and a runoff opponent) split the other votes, it still would come out to be the same,” Campbell said. “Plus, Tim’s not a bad guy.”

Paul Shealy, the Post 3 incumbent who was unseated, said the discrepancies Lee described has piqued his interest. He lost his race to Keith Lauritsen by 24 votes. Still, Shealy said he did not seek a recount.

“I know the people that count them,” Shealy said. “They’re good honest people, and there could be a mistake that was made. We’ll see.”

To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.

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