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Note the change: City District 5 runoff June 19
County, state runoffs still July 24, but different rule for Boro’s special election
armel duke
Statesboro City Council District 5 candidates Don Armel, left, and Derek Duke responded to a question about the council’s recent discussion on decriminalizing possession of less than one ounce of marijuana. - photo by Special

What: Special election for District 5 City Council
When: June 19
Who: Candidates Don Armel and Derek Duke

The runoff in Statesboro’s special election for a City Council member in District 5, and only the runoff in this special city election, will have to be held June 19, Bulloch County Elections Supervisor Patricia Lanier Jones announced Thursday.

All other runoffs in which Bulloch County voters can participate will still be held July 24. On the Republican ballot, these will include runoffs for the GOP nomination for governor, lieutenant governor and secretary of state. The local runoff between challenger Travis Chance and incumbent Walter Gibson for Bulloch County commissioner Seat 2B will also appear on the July 24 Republican ballot. On the Democratic Party ballot, the runoff for a state school superintendent nominee will also occur July 24.

But the nonpartisan Statesboro city special election, only in council District 5, must be held June 19, Jones said Thursday. Up through Tuesday night’s vote count, she and other local officials had said that runoff would also be July 24. But election officials at the Georgia secretary of state’s office let them know otherwise Wednesday.

“I think they said  they had 11 special elections for cities and it hit them yesterday that there was that little code section stuck in the back that says that we had to do (the runoff) within four weeks since it was not on the ballot,” Jones said.


‘Separate and apart’

In other words, the city’s special election was not on the same ballot with the state and county primaries and nonpartisan general election, so different rules apply. To comply with contradictory wording in Georgia’s election laws, Statesboro officials invoked the idea of a “separate and apart” election when City Council decided in March to schedule the special election for the same date as the primary, May 22, instead of with the Nov. 6 general election.

The election will fill the vacancy created when Chance, a Statesboro council member for 10 years, resigned before launching his campaign for county commissioner.

Jones’ news release Thursday said the new date of June 19 for the city runoff was determined by the Bulloch County Board of Elections and Registration in consultation with the Georgia secretary of state’s office and attorneys for the city and county.

“There was some initial confusion about the runoff date for the Statesboro special election because July 24, 2018, is the date for the runoff election for the statewide general primary election held on May 22, 2018, and it was the only date listed on the election calendar published by the secretary of state’s office,” the release stated.

It then cited a subsection of state law, Official Code of Georgia Annotated 21-2-501(a)(6). This provides that “in the case of a runoff from a special primary or special election for an office other than a federal office not held in conjunction with a general primary or general election, the runoff shall be held on the twenty-eighth day after the day of holding the preceding special primary or special election.”

This reduces campaigning time for the two City Council runoff candidates, Derek Duke and Don Armel, by a full month. As of Friday, they have 25 days.

Of the 216 votes cast by District 5 residents Tuesday and in early voting, Duke received 106 votes, or 49.1 percent, while Armel received 64 votes, or 29.6 percent. Konrad Godfrey got 46 votes, or 21.3 percent, and did not advance to the runoff.


Candidates say OK

“Frankly, I’m very thankful for the voters who showed their trust in me and voted the first time. We hope to get them back out,” Duke said Thursday. “We’re happy to receive the early election, really. It’s better for the voters of District 5 to have representation sooner rather than later.”

Armel said he pretty much expected to be in a runoff.

“Now that we are in a runoff, I’ve got a new strategy to go out and try to find the votes necessary to win this thing,” he said.

“I can see both sides,” Armel said of the timing. “Having more time would be good  to go out and really work on getting your base out to vote and finding the voters, but it’s also nice that it will be over and finished with and we don’t have to have it linger all summer.”

The ballots aren’t printed yet, but District 5 voters who want absentee ballots mailed to them can go ahead and submit applications, Jones said. There will also be in-person early voting ending June 15, but she didn’t know yet when it will begin.

“We don’t have our schedule yet because we’re waiting on Atlanta to get the programming done,” Jones said.


Low turnout

Leading up to Tuesday, there were 16 days of early voting. The same advanced voting locations were used for both the city’s special election and the county’s regular election, but with different ballots provided on the machines.

Then just one precinct house, Pittman Park United Methodist Church, hosted the special election Tuesday. A wall of portable wooden dividers separated the state and county election area, where 17 machines were available, from the city election area, where there were just four machines featuring the one-item District 5 ballot.

Half an hour before the polls closed, poll manager Dale Nessmith, in charge of the city election side at Pittman Park, described the turnout as “kind of disappointing.” On the other side of the partition, unrelated poll manager Debra Nessmith said Tuesday had been “a slow day” for voting there in the state and county election.

Countywide voter turnout, including early and absentee as well as Election Day voting, was 20 percent. But with 218 votes cast from among the 2,215 registered voters in City Council District 5, turnout in the special election fell a little short of 10 percent.

Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.

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