The presidential election has the nation’s attention, but area elections are being decided now.
Early voting in Georgia’s May 24 general primary and nonpartisan election starts Monday. Most local contests are either nonpartisan – such as the Augusta Commission and judgeships – or are in districts where the primary winner prevails in November.
Several incumbents have primary opposition this year, including freshman U.S. Rep. Rick Allen, R-Augusta, who faces a Republican challenge from retired businessman Eugene Yu. Also with primary opposition are three members of the Augusta legislative delegation: Sen. Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro; Rep. Wayne Howard, D-Augusta; and Rep. Earnest Smith, D-Augusta.
Yu said Friday that the election season had grown so heated that he’d had campaign signs stolen from his front yard in Evans.
Howard said being opposed for the first time is refreshing.
“It’s a great opportunity to get out and get refreshed with your constituents and talk to them and see what’s going on,” said Howard, the legislative delegation’s chairman. He faces retired Army officer Gregory Hill in the District 124 primary, and no Republicans are running.
The many contested races had one veteran political observer suspecting an underlying effort to attract more voters to the polls.
Having multiple opposed candidates, who also include Richmond County Marshal Steve Smith, is sure to “gin up minority turnout,” said longtime Republican Party official Dave Barbee. “Even though the elections are in May, you’re going to have a heavier turnout. It creates an atmosphere to people to go vote.”
With most Augusta elections now held in May and an extended early voting period, area elections have fundamentally changed, he said.
“The election cycle is now 30 days,” Barbee said. “You’re going to see people on the side of the road waving signs, TV ads, digital, a ton of robocalls.”
It’s not just Democratic races that are attracting attention, however. The retirement of Rep. Barbara Sims, R-Augusta, has triggered a heated three-way race in which two candidates, Wright McLeod and Mark Newton, have already raised more than $100,000 each.
“We’re going to spend a lot of money for this House seat,” said Barbee, a McLeod supporter.
If neither McLeod, Newton or Lori Greenhill garners more than 50 percent of the votes in Augusta and Martinez, the race will head to a July 26 runoff.
Also attracting attention and likely resulting in a runoff is the five-way Republican contest to replace District 24 Sen. Bill Jackson, R-Appling, who is retiring.
The candidates in the seven-county district, which includes much of Columbia County and a single precinct in Richmond County, include former state Rep. Lee Anderson, who gained notoriety for refusing to debate Democratic U.S. Rep. John Barrow in 2012. Anderson has held numerous offices representing Columbia County.
Anderson and three of his competitors – Gregory Grzybowski, Joe Edge and Pat Goodwin – all live in Columbia County. The fifth hopeful, Pete Gibbons, is a former mayor of Bowman in Elbert County.
Voters will select either a Democratic, Republican or nonpartisan ballot.
“The ballot is long, no doubt. It is full from the top to the bottom with important, contested races,” said Lynn Bailey, the executive director of the Richmond County Board of Elections.
Advance voting in Augusta will begin at 8:30 a.m. Monday in the Linda Beazley Community Room, named for the longtime elections director, at the Municipal Building. In Columbia County, voters can cast ballots beginning at 8 a.m. at the elections office at 500 Faircloth Drive, Building E, in Evans,
With the number of choices and elections that vary by a voter’s address and choice of ballot, they are advised to preview a sample ballot at www.mvp.sos.ga.gov, Bailey said.
Area voters will fill seats open since the retirement announcements of Chief Superior Court Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet in the three-county Augusta Judicial Circuit and Richmond County Clerk of Courts Elaine Johnson.
State Court Judge John Flythe is running for the Superior Court judgeship, leaving a State Court opening now sought by attorneys Monique Walker and Robert “Bo” Hunter, along with Solicitor General Kellie Kenner McIntyre.
Flythe faces Magistrate Court Solicitor Evita Paschall for the judgeship. Longtime Superior Court Judge Carl C. Brown is facing opposition for the first time from Augusta attorney Chris Nicholson.
South and central Augusta voters will replace District 5 Augusta Commissioner Bill Lockett, who is term-limited, with either former Richmond County school board Chairman Andrew Jefferson or businessman Kelby Walker. Jefferson told Augusta Technical College after his retirement earlier this year that he planned to “pursue a career in local politics,” while Walker said he’s the anti-establishment candidate.
Longtime Augusta politician Marion Williams has opposition for a third term on the Augusta Commission from Ronnie Battle, who has been heavily funded by District 4 Commissioner Sammie Sias. Battle didn’t return calls for comment.
Voters in both counties will see nonbinding ballot questions on the partisan ballots, with five questions on the Democratic ballot and one on the Republican ballot.