Preoccupied electorate could mean dismal primary turnout

jgaines@macon.comMay 17, 2014 

Elected offices big and small are up for grabs Tuesday in Middle Georgia and across the state, and while there are plenty of contenders -- at least in some races -- local voters seem less than enthusiastic.

Sixteen days of early voting drew just 4,553 votes in Bibb County, and there were fewer than 1,000 absentee ballots, said Jeanetta Watson, the Macon-Bibb County elections supervisor.

That’s fewer than similar elections in years when there weren’t nearly as many registered voters, she said.

“I anticipated a larger turnout,” Watson said.

Tuesday is a test of Georgia’s move of state primary elections to match the primary for federal offices. A federal judge ordered the change in federal races to allow more time for military balloting, and the General Assembly voted in January to shift state primaries to match. Any needed runoffs will be held July 22.

That schedule change, and the possible preoccupation of voters with end-of-school-year activities and vacations, may be having an impact, Watson said.

“All those factors could play a huge part in the low voter turnout,” she said “Voters normally don’t come out this early in the year.”

That trend seems to be playing itself out far beyond Bibb County, said Charles Bullock, head of the political science department at the University of Georgia.

“There had been hope that moving the primary forward so that it occurred when children were still in school would improve participation,” he said via email. “But everything I have heard indicates weak early voting. Early voting gives an indication of likely overall participation, so it does not appear that we will have a strong showing.”

Statewide turnout probably won’t come close to the 1.6 million primary total from 2012, falling back instead into the range seen in most elections from the previous decade, Bullock said.

“To sum up, the change in the date seems not to have enhanced participation despite the millions of dollars being spent on the GOP Senate primary and hot contests in four GOP congressional primaries,” he said.

Many statewide and local races are uncontested, with only one candidate on the ballot. In some partisan primaries with multiple candidates, all contenders share the same party affiliation, though the winner may face a challenger in the November general election.

Contested statewide races

There is a Republican primary for governor, though polls show incumbent Gov. Nathan Deal overwhelmingly ahead of outgoing state school Superintendent John Barge and former Dalton Mayor David Pennington. State Sen. Jason Carter is unopposed on the Democratic side, and thus likely to face Deal in the fall.

Two Democrats are seeking a chance to run against Republican incumbent Brian Kemp for secretary of state. They are Gerald Beckum and Doreen Carter.

Likewise, two Democrats are in the May primary for insurance commissioner. Keith Heard and Liz Johnson both want to face Republican incumbent Ralph Hudgens in the general election.

The most wide-open state race is for state school superintendent, as incumbent Barge tries for governor. Six Democrats and nine Republicans make for lively primary matchups.

Democratic contenders are Tarnisha Dent, Denise Freeman, Jurita Mays, Alisha Morgan, Rita Robinzine and Valarie Wilson.

Republicans in the race are Mary Kay Bacallao, Ashley Bell, Mike Buck, Sharyl Dawes, Allen Fort, Nancy Jester, T. Fitz Johnson, Kira Willis and Richard Woods.

There are three Republicans in a primary race for the District 4 seat on the Public Service Commission, including incumbent Lauren “Bubba” McDonald. The other two are Douglas Kidd and Craig Lutz.

U.S. Senate

Perhaps the biggest contest on Tuesday’s ballot is the battle to replace U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, who isn’t running for re-election. The primary has attracted seven Republican and four Democratic contenders, of whom one each will face off in November.

The Republicans include three sitting congressmen, Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey and Jack Kingston; attorney Art Gardner; engineer Derrick Grayson; Karen Handel, former Georgia secretary of state; and businessman David Perdue.

Democrats in the race are Steen Miles, a former state senator; Michelle Nunn, nonprofit volunteer group president and daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn; psychiatrist Branko Radulovacki; and fireman Todd Robinson.

U.S. House races

Two Republicans are vying to take on Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop in the 2nd Congressional District. They are Vivian Childs, a retired educator, and optician Greg Duke.

There are seven Republican primary contenders seeking to replace Broun, who’s running for the Senate, as 10th District U.S. representative. On the ballot are Mike Collins, Gary Gerard, Jody Hice, Donna Sheldon, Stephen Simpson, Brian Slowinski and Mitchell Swan.

Five Republicans want a chance to take on Democratic incumbent Rep. John Barrow in the 12th Congressional District. They are Rick Allen, Delvis Dutton, John Stone, Diane Vann and Eugene Yu.

General Assembly races

Two area state Senate seats are in contention. In District 18, the matchup is between Republicans John Kennedy, a lawyer, and Spencer Price, a doctor. Both are bidding to succeed outgoing Republican Cecil Staton. In District 26, it’s a Democratic rematch between incumbent Sen. David Lucas and former Sen. Miriam Paris.

Among the five state House seats being contested in the area, two are Democratic races and three are Republican.

Incumbent Republican Allen Peake faces electrical engineer Bradley Moriarty in District 141. Next door in District 142, incumbent Nikki Randall faces fellow Democrat Gerald Harvey, a former Macon city councilman.

In District 143, incumbent state Rep. James Beverly is up against Lonzy Edwards, a former Bibb County commissioner. Both men are Democrats.

The race for District 147 pits incumbent Willie Talton against software engineer and fellow Republican Heath Clark. Similarly, in District 148, incumbent Republican Buddy Harden faces challenger Randy Head, a FEMA disaster loss verifier.

Bibb County races

Among all nonpartisan races in Bibb County, there are two contenders for one Magistrate Court judge’s seat: incumbent William Randall and Emory Christian.

Two school board seats are in contention, but only one features an incumbent. In the at-large Post 7 race, James Bumpus -- recently hired as the first Macon-Bibb County director of Small Business Affairs -- is matched against attorney Daryl Morton.

For at-large Post 8, however, incumbent Wanda West is opposed by Darren Latch, who’s in the insurance business.

Two board seats and the chairmanship are available on the Macon Water Authority, and those posts have attracted nine candidates.

Former Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart, businessman and perennial candidate David Cousino, and Stephen Rickman are running for the chairmanship. Rickman held the District 3 water board seat until he resigned to run for chairman.

District 1 incumbent Dorothy Black seeks to hold her seat against chiropractor Anissa Jones, while four candidates seek the District 3 seat Rickman vacated.

Industrial supply salesman Ed Hatcher, real estate agent Dwight Jones, civil engineer Steve Skalko and Brown & Williamson retiree Alan Thiese are the District 3 contenders.

Houston County races

There are two Republican contenders for the job of State Court clerk: incumbent Kendra Simons and challenger Aly Stuckart.

Two nonpartisan school board at-large seats are up for grabs, with no incumbents in the fight. In District 6, Sheila Ashley, Griff Clements and Hoke Morrow are the contenders.

In District 7 there are five: Tannya Duncan, Robbin Jackson, Andy Rodriguez, Brian Upshaw and Doug Wechsler.

Nearby counties

Two board of education seats are up for grabs in Jones County, with each attracting three candidates, none of them incumbents. Tony Blash, Richard Cazort and Ken Hamilton are seeking the District 1 seat, while J.D. Collins, Nancy Nash and Brady Skinner are running for the District 3 seat. There is also a special purpose local option sales tax referendum on the ballot.

The only contested local races in Monroe County are for the District 3 and 4 seats on county commission. District 3 incumbent Patsy Miller faces a challenge from John Ambrose.

In District 4, incumbent Joe Proctor wants to hold his post against former Commissioner Jim Peters and newcomer Jarod Lovett. All five are Republicans.

Peach County has no contested local primary races.

There are two Democratic candidates for the open District 1 seat on the Twiggs County Board of Education. The contenders are Javarez Bryant and Mike Rouse.

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