When the ballots were counted Tuesday night, Chappell has received the most votes, but the split was close to a three-way tie, a situation not usually found in incumbency races, one local political analyst observed.
The unofficial totals were Chappell with 4,594 votes, 34.9 percent; Smith with 4,356 votes, 33.1 percent; and third-place finisher Walt Hollingsworth, 4,217 votes, 32.0 percent.
Dr. Robert Sanders, a University of West Georgia political science professor, said he found the results “rather surprising” and was amazed at the closeness of the vote split and how no candidate was close to a majority.
“It goes to show that the Carroll County electorate is not thrilled with how things are going in county government,” Sanders said Wednesday. “There seems to be a number of issues, such as spending and services, but it may be reflective of general disappointment in government around the nation.”
Sanders said the vote seemed to be a question of, “Do you want the incumbency or not?” and it appears the Tuesday results showed nearly a two-to-one vote of dissatisfaction.
But, he added, while Tuesday’s 27 percent turnout was surprisingly good for a local election, it’s much more difficult to get voters out for a runoff.
Smith said Wednesday he knows it’s hard to get voters back out a second time, but he’s hoping that local schools being back in session and voters home from vacation will help.
He’s also banking on the similarities of his and Hollingsworth’s primary campaigns.
“We talked with each other throughout the entire campaign,” Smith said. “Our campaigns had a lot of similarities. It was just a matter of who won and we both agreed to support the other one.”
Chappell said his campaign team would be meeting later Wednesday to discuss its strategy.
Runoff elections present a few unique challenges, according to county Elections Supervisor Becky Deese. For one thing, voters must follow the party selected in the general primary when they vote in the runoff.
“For example, if a Republican ballot was selected for the July 31 election, that voter is eligible to vote in the Aug. 21 Republican runoff,” Deese said. “Since there will be no Democratic runoff, voters who chose a Democratic ballot on July 31 are not eligible to vote in the Republican runoff on Aug. 21.”
Voters who chose non-partisan ballots or did not vote in the July 31 primary will be allowed to vote in the Aug. 21 runoff.
There’s no special registration breaks given potential runoff voters.
“All voters casting ballots in the runoff must have been registered prior to the July 2 deadline for registering for the general primary,” Deese said.
Chappell’s first bid for commission chairman came in a Sept. 18, 2007, special election after then-commission Chairman Robert Barr resigned. In the four-candidate race, Chappell got 43.6 percent of the vote, with the next highest candidate being John Denney with 30.7 percent.
Chappell won the Oct. 16, 2007, runoff, taking 54.5 percent of the vote, with a 17 percent voter turnout.
Chappell won an easy victory for a full four-year term in the Nov. 4, 2008, general election, taking 56.7 percent of the vote, against Democrat Herman Ayers, with 43.2 percent.
Chappell drew public criticism in 2009 after firing two popular county department heads. A recall petition was circulated but failed to gain enough signatures to force a recall election.
In this year’s campaign, Chappell has emphasized paying off debt, balancing the county budget and maintaining a good financial position. He has also claimed to run a transparent government, putting all the county checkbooks and budgets online.
Smith has countered that Chappell inherited a 2-mill tax increase which allowed him to pay off debts and build up a surplus. He has claimed Chappell is not working with the district commissioners and is running county government in a “dictatorial” fashion, which rewards friends and punishes enemies.
Hollingsworth said Tuesday night, after the election results were in, that he would support to Smith.
“I’m going to stick by my campaign slogan of ‘Anybody but Chappell,’” he said.