The two candidates in the Democratic runoff for Richmond County sheriff have different strategies to win Aug. 21.
Sheriff’s Capt. Scott Peebles will be happy if the same group of voters comes back to the polls. Schools Public Safety Lt. Richard Roundtree also wants his supporters to return – and to bring their friends and neighbors.
Roundtree said the key for his campaign is to motivate people to vote. He said his campaign is working neighborhoods with low turnout to encourage those who didn’t cast a vote Tuesday to do so Aug. 21.
“The numbers are there, but it is about getting people to the polls,” he said. “People just don’t realize how much power that they have in these elections.”
Hoping for higher turnout in a runoff could be wishful thinking, if history is any judge. In most recent examples, turnout in runoffs has been far less than general elections or primaries. In 2008, turnout for the general primary was about 23 percent, and in 2010 about 14 percent. In both subsequent runoffs, turnout dropped to about 8 percent.
Tuesday’s turnout exceeded 34 percent of registered voters, which Board of Elections Director Lynn Bailey said was high. But even with a lot of interest in the sheriff’s election, Bailey and others expect fewer voters Aug. 21.
There is one recent example of a runoff in which turnout increased, however.
In the 2005 mayor’s race, Willie Mays and Deke Copenhaver came in first and second in a general election with four candidates and a 41 percent turnout. In the runoff, turnout surged to 45 percent and Copenhaver won with 56 percent of the vote.
Roundtree, who came in second in the primary, said he is confident voters will come out if they know what is at stake.
“People like to vote for a cause,” he said. “They want something to rally behind to be part of the election process. We are trying to get them motivated to be a part of it.”
Expecting more voters is not in Peebles’ plan.
Though the captain is reaching out to a wide array of voters, his campaign manager said the main strategy is to persuade those who voted Tuesday to return for the runoff. That includes pulling in some of those who voted for the other Democratic candidates – Lt. Robbie Silas and Lt. John Ivey – who won a total of about 15 percent of the primary vote, said attorney Sam Nicholson, who is heading Peebles’ campaign.
“Scott has been reaching out to some of the Silas and Ivey supporters,” Nicholson said. “We just hope our voters will come back to the polls.”
Nicholson said the campaign’s analysis of primary results shows Peebles attracted a broader swath of voters from across the county than Roundtree, which he sees as a distinct advantage.
An analysis by The Augusta Chronicle of Tuesday’s results confirms what Nicholson found. In precincts dominated by black voters, Roundtree outpolled Peebles by an average of 52 percent to 34 percent. In predominantly white precincts, Peebles outpolled Roundtree on average 65 percent to 19 percent of votes cast. In five white-majority precincts, Roundtree received less than 10 percent of the vote, below 2 percent in one of those precincts. The least Peebles received in any black-majority precinct was about 20 percent of the vote.
“That’s pretty good penetration into the black community,” Nicholson said, attributing those numbers to Peebles’ efforts to campaign in predominantly black neighborhoods and to reach out to all voters.
“He made special effort to do that. It was a big, big part of his campaign,” Nicholson said. “He wants to be sheriff for all the people of Richmond County. He’s made that plain to everybody.”
Roundtree said that is what he wants as well, but the reality is that most residents in the county are black and that is where most of his votes will be coming from.
He said he will have to overcome what he thinks were a large number of Republican-leaning voters who crossed over to vote in the Democratic primary. He said more than 30,000 votes were cast for sheriff’s candidates in the Democratic primary, but none of the unopposed Democrats in other races received anything near that total. Steven Kendrick, the incumbent tax commissioner, received the most votes of any unopposed Democrat – 23,207.
Roundtree said that indicates there were a lot of voters interested in voting in only one race.
“I think what we got was the true Democratic vote,” he said.
He said a big part of his message will be to emphasize that voters could be taking part in an historic election.
“They could elect the first African-American sheriff of the largest sheriff’s department in Georgia. That’s a big deal,” he said. “It is going to happen eventually. Why not now? Why not be a part of it?”