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McElhenney wins vote recount

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Runoff scheduled for probate judge; qualifying set for District 4 BOC seat

  • McElhenney wins vote recount
  • McElhenney wins vote recount
    Superintendent Lynne Laseter, right, shows the vote tallies to Incumbent Kelvin Irwin, who lost the District 1 BOC election by three votes. LYNN HOBBS/Staff

EDITOR'S NOTE: In the print version of this story, Board of Elections and Registration Chairman Charlie Patten was incorrectly identified as chairman of the Putnam County Democratic Party. The chairman by law has no official party affiliation. The BER includes two members each from the Republican and Democratic Parties. The chairman is appointed by the Board of Commissioners. The Messenger apologizes for this error, and the story below has been corrected.

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The primary election season continues in Putnam County as one race was finalized last week after a recount, another will be determined by a runoff and qualifying begins for a vacant BOC seat.

Recount held for District 1 BOC

After the June 9 results were counted for the Putnam County Board of Commissioners District 1 seat, the tally was too close for comfort for Kelvin Irwin, who asked in writing for a recount.

Irwin, the incumbent, was challenged by Gary McElhenney, the former longtime coroner of Putnam County. Their election final results differed by only three votes, with McElhenney receiving 313 votes and Irwin, 310.

“At first, (the difference) was 10, and I wasn’t worried about it,” Irwin said immediately before the recount. “But three is close, and I know [McElhenney] would’ve done the same thing.”

Those who attended the recount at the Board of Elections and Registration office at the courthouse Thursday morning, June 18, included Irwin; Howard McMichael, who was there to represent McElhenney while he was at a medical appointment; BER Chairman Charlie Patten, Republican Party Chairwoman Judy Fain, BER board member Lorraine Webb, County Commission Chairman Billy Webster and Sheriff Howard Sills. The recount ended up lasting approximately three and a half hours, and McElhenney arrived shortly before it ended.

Early in the process, Webster questioned why the initial June 9 results did not balance and had to be recounted over the next several days following the election. Laseter explained that she had been in a hurry to get everyone the results and did not double-check the counts.

Throughout the recount process, Irwin asked about and confirmed the process. The ballots were counted in categories, each one individually being placed in a scanner. The categories included absentee votes, absentee votes made in person on Election Day, advanced votes and Election Day in-person votes. There were no UOCAVA ballots (military overseas) for the District 1 race, Laseter noted.

Both candidates were Republicans and because the count was so close, Irwin also asked if there was any chance one of the ballots may have become mixed up in the Democratic stack of ballots.

“That’s a good question, but I checked it all twice yesterday,” Laseter told him.

Eight ballots were either torn or folded incorrectly, making them unable to go through the scanner. The BER members checked each of them, duplicated them for the scanner and validated them.

The results of the recount echoed the same official results of June 9, with McElhenney winning by three votes. Irwin noted the importance of each voter. The absentee ballots seemed to be what made the difference.

“I had lost last Friday and I still lost,” Irwin said when he heard the total. “Congratulations to Gary and I’ll help him any way I can. It was a very close and interesting campaign with the coronavirus. I ran eight years ago and got beat by Fred Ward by only seven votes. Then four years later, I ran again and I beat Fred by 17 votes. And this time, I lost by three, so it’s been close each time. Every vote counts.”

“I’m glad that’s over with,” McElhenney said. “I appreciate the support the voters in District 1 gave me. During this time, it’s really difficult to live the way we want and we have to make changes. The absentee ballot was the most essential part of this race and I appreciate everybody getting one and voting. I appreciate Kelvin; he and I had a good relationship throughout the campaign and we both want to serve District 1.”

The breakdown of the 641 ballots cast for the District 1 race is as follows:

310 absentee ballots – Irwin: 146; McElhenney: 157, blank: 7;

180 advance in person – Irwin: 92; McIhenney: 81; blank: 7;

151 Election Day voters – Irwin: 72; McElhenney: 75; blank: 4.

Patten complimented all the poll workers and the BER staff for their perseverance with the new machines, the many absentee ballot requesters who showed up at the polls and an equipment failure/power outage due to a lightning strike.

“Like any new process, there’s going to be problems,” Patten said. “I’m glad we persevered through it, and our people worked dutifully hard. They’ve had things that nobody ever had to deal with before and they stuck with it and I’m proud for each one who had a part in it.”

Runoff to determine Probate Judge

The nonpartisan Probate Judge race was another election in the county with close results, and a runoff election begins next month.

Of the 5,813 votes received, incumbent Karen Owen received 2,724; Brandy Turk Huskins received 2,466; and Muriel Simmons-McCord had 623.

The runoff election will be Tuesday, Aug. 11. Advance voting runs Monday, July 20, through Friday, Aug. 7, at the Putnam County Administration Building, 117 Putnam Drive, Eatonton.

Election to fill District 4 BOC seat

The District 4 County Commission seat became empty when Trevor Addison resigned as commissioner and announced his candidacy for Putnam County Clerk of Courts.

Qualifying to fill that vacated seat is Monday, Aug. 3, through Wednesday, Aug. 5, with the election taking place Nov. 3 with the General Election.

Contact the Putnam County BER office for more information, 706-485-8683.