Billy Hickman, the certified public accountant from Statesboro, and Dr. Scott Bohlke, the family practice physician from Brooklet, now advance to an Aug. 11 runoff – or really two simultaneous runoffs – in the race for the District 4 seat in the Georgia Senate.
In the first stage of the election, which culminated Tuesday, Hickman took the lead in the district overall, while Bohlke had the most votes in Bulloch County, the home county of both front-runners. But that’s not why there are two runoffs. They appeared in what were technically two separate elections, among a total of four Republican candidates in one race and five candidates, including one independent, in the other.
“We haven’t seen the final, final results, but we feel good,” Bohlke said when phoned late Wednesday morning. “I mean, we’ve got eight more weeks till the runoff on August 11th, and so we’ve still got more work to do. This is one hurdle and we’ve got another one to go, so we’re looking forward to it and we’ve just got to keep working.”
Hickman emailed a statement later in the afternoon.
“I am humbled by the support I received from the voters in the 4th Georgia Senate District, and I am grateful for the opportunity to continue to run to fill the seat vacated by Jack Hill’s untimely death,” Hickman wrote. “We knew from the beginning that we were running against a strong field of candidates, and it is no surprise that a runoff will be necessary to determine who represents our district at the Capitol.”
Hill was the unopposed Republican incumbent when he died suddenly April 6 after representing the district in the state Senate for almost 30 years.
Twin runoffs, with the same two names, will occur because Hickman and Bohlke emerged as the front-runners in both the special election to fill Hill’s unexpired term through December and the simultaneous Republican primary for a two-year term as Hill’s successor. But neither got the required 50%-plus majority.
The special election appeared on Tuesday’s nonpartisan ballot, received by Democrats as well as Republicans along with their party primary ballots.
So, voters who chose the Republican ballot were able to vote in both the primary and the special election, while Democratic Party voters saw only the special election, with “Republican” under the names of Bohlke, Hickman, Kathy Palmer and Neil Singleton, and nothing suggesting a party affiliation under the name of Stephen Jared Sammons, the independent.
Overall in District 4, which encompasses Bulloch, Candler, Evans and Effingham counties and parts of Emanuel and Tattnall counties, Hickman led with 10,982 votes in the Republican primary, 43.1%, to Bohlke’s 9,551 votes, 37.5%, as listed on the Georgia secretary of state’s elections website as of mid-afternoon Wednesday.
Palmer was third in the Republican primary, with 4,159 votes or 16.3%, while Singleton trailed with 788 votes, or 3.1%.
In the special election for the unexpired term, Hickman held a much slimmer lead district-wide. He had 11,792 votes, 33.3%, to Bohlke’s 11,322 votes, 32%, while Sammons was third, with 5,791 votes, 16.35%, Palmer fourth with 5,480 votes, 15.5%, and Singleton fifth with 1,025 votes, or 2.9%.
These district results may shift somewhat, since they appeared unchanged after Bulloch County election officials loaded additions to the local count later Wednesday.
Bohlke ahead in Bulloch
In Bulloch County, Bohlke led with 4,662 votes, almost 48.7% of the county total to Hickman’s 4,111 votes, or 42.9%, in the Republican primary for the full two-year term. Palmer captured 631 Bulloch County Republican primary votes, and Singleton 176 votes.
Also looking at Bulloch separately for the special, partial-term election, Bohlke led with 5,746 votes, 40.5% of the county total, to Hickman’s 4,544 votes, 32.1%. Sammons, the independent, was third with local voters in the special election, with 2,556 votes, or 18%, to Palmer’s 1094 votes, or 7.7%, and Singleton’s 236 votes, less than 2%.
Asked what he sees as the deciding issue, Bohlke said he thinks voters just want someone to communicate with about what they want from state government.
“I think that’s the biggest issue that I’ve come across,” he said. “They just want somebody that can listen, sit down and talk to them, and we try to do that and will continue to try to do that.”
In his email, Hickman said he is pledging to work hard “in Atlanta” for District 4 citizens and not “for Atlanta.”
“I will do this by sticking to my core principles of conservative values, Second Amendment rights and pro-life,” he wrote. “It’s time for Georgia to get back to work and I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and help.”
Palmer, a Swainsboro attorney who retired as a Superior Court judge in April after 20 years on the Middle Judicial Circuit bench, led in her home county, Emanuel, with 56.8% of the votes in the Republican primary and 49.9% in the special election, while Hickman and Bohlke trailed second and third there, respectively.
But Hickman led in both races in Candler, Effingham, Evans and Tattnall counties. Bohkle took second place in the Republican primary in all of those counties. But he was third, behind Palmer in second place, in the short-term special election in Tattnall County.
One oddity of this election was that Democrats and nonpartisan voters got to choose among Republicans and an independent on the nonpartisan portion of the ballot. But only Republican voters were choosing candidates for the full 2021-2022 term.
In fact, when Sammons qualified as an independent, he was not allowed on the ballot for a full-term, as he indicated in a May 27 media release. If he had received a majority in the special election, he could only have served the remainder of 2020.
As he noted, neither Sammons nor “media outlets,” which included the Statesboro Herald, understood this at first.
After sample ballots were released, Sammons was “confused about seeing the Republican candidates on a primary ballot,” he said, and sought clarification from Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.
“After about a week, I received notice that I would not be permitted to qualify because I had not done so back in March,” Sammons wrote.
But the Republican candidates could do so under a state law, OCGA 21-2-155, which “allows a party to reopen qualifications before a primary is held, effectively only allowing Democrats and Republicans, and in this race, only Republicans, a spot on the ballot,” he explained. “And they are not offering a chance for independents to qualify.”
In fact, the only candidate who had signed up during the original March qualifying period was the late Sen. Jack Hill.
Sammons, who graduated from law school last month, said the state’s stance in restricting an independent candidate’s access violated the principle of a 1968 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Williams v. Rhodes. Wednesday, he said had not been planning a legal challenge but was thinking about it after hearing from supporters Tuesday.