A closer look at Habersham County’s primary elections

(NowHabersham.com)

Voters across the state turned out to vote on Tuesday in local primaries. Habersham County had a voter turnout during early, absentee, and day of voting of 6,317 or 21.29 % of 29,668 active registered voters in the county. With the primary election over and a Habersham County Commission District 1 run-off in June, here’s a closer look at voter turnout in Habersham County.

Precinct Summary

Voters had three weeks of early voting prior to election day for the primary. All of the precincts report advance voting. Only the South Precinct was open during the whole early voting period and two Saturdays for voting. The North Precinct was only open one Saturday and one week of early voting.

The reason for all precincts reporting advance voting is because the machines track each voter’s precinct when a ballot is cast and record the vote in their assigned precinct.

Below is a breakdown by the numbers of how each precinct performed during the primary election period.

County Commission contested races

The Habersham County Commission contested races saw three seats up for grabs with a total of eight candidates running for those seats. The candidates voiced their opinions and viewpoints publicly on improvements that could be made in the county government. Even with differing viewpoints, all of the candidates were respectful of one another and ran clean campaigns.

County Commission District 1 seat saw three candidates. Eric Holbrooks and Kelly Woodall ran against incumbent Commissioner Bruce Palmer who was seeking his second term. This race has yet to be decided since no one got more than 50% of the vote, resulting in a run-off on June 18. Palmer came in third in the race of three with only 30.72% of the vote. Holbrooks received 31.08%.

However, before the run-off, there may be a recount since Holbrooks only received 20 more votes than Palmer. According to Palmer, if the vote count doesn’t change once the election is certified, he will be requesting a recount. The winner of the recount will face Woodall, who received 38% of the vote, in the June run-off. There were a total of 5,492 ballots cast in the District 1 race.

County Commission District 4 seat saw incumbent Commissioner Bruce Harkness being challenged by commercial real estate agent and political newcomer Wade Rhodes. Prior to the election, there was a lot of social media activity speaking out against Rhodes.

The District 4 race received the most votes of all of the contested races in Habersham County at 5,554 ballots cast.

County Commission District 5 seat saw three candidates on the ballot for the primary. Locke Arnold and Gisela McGugan were trying to unseat incumbent Commission Chairman Ty Akins for his seat on the Board.

However, Akins will retain his seat by receiving a resounding 58% of the vote in a three way race. He will begin a full four year term in January. Akins is currently completing the term that former Commissioner Tim Stamey was elected to in 2020. Stamey had to resign in 2021 due to health issues. There were a total of 5,409 ballots cast for this race.

Board of Education contested races

The Habersham County Board of Education (BOE) had two seats up for election in the primary. Each seat saw the incumbents qualify for reelection with each seat receiving a single challenger. District 1 saw incumbent Doug Westmoreland face challenger and political newcomer Brett Barden. District 2 saw incumbent Robert Barron face challenger Ernie Garrett. Both races were, for the most part, respectful and the candidates ran relatively clean campaigns.

Both challengers questioned the transparency and fiscal responsibility of the school board, stating that both could be improved. However, there was some heated discussion about both topics during a live debate prior to election day.

For District 1, challenger Barden was very respectful of incumbent Westmoreland. Westmoreland taught Barden in high school at Habersham Central. Both candidates ran clean campaigns. But in the end, Westmoreland prevailed with 56% of the vote and will retain his seat for a third term beginning in January.

Barden was clear during his campaign that more transparency was needed in school board meetings so parents and taxpayers knew what was going on in the school system. He also expressed that there needed to be more fiscal accountability and transparency when it came to financial matters. There were a total of 5,491 votes cast in the BOE District 1 race.

For District 2, the race was respectful and relatively clean. Challenger Garrett was a little more vocal about the school board not being transparent or fiscally responsible enough with the community. He echoed Barden’s claim that the school board may have made more decisions in executive sessions than in open meetings.

There was more debate about the issues Garrett brought up with Westmoreland than with Barron.

Barron prevailed in the end retaining his seat for a sixth term with 55% of the vote. The total ballots cast for this race was 5,493.

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