HUNTSVILLE — The final week of early voting got off to a slow start under gray skies and off-and-on rain showers Monday, with fewer than 200 voters heading to polling locations here and in Oneida to cast ballots. However, it still appears that Scott County’s early vote record could be in jeopardy, assuming the weather cooperates the rest of the week.
The 182 voters who turned out to vote on Monday represented the lowest total of the early voting period thus far, and the first time the single-day turnout was below 200. It was a stark contrast to Friday, when 438 voters headed to polls at the Oneida Municipal Services Building and Scott County Office Building to cast ballots.
Still, with 30 absentee ballots cast in, Scott County’s early vote total stood at 2,848 at the close of polls on Monday. And with five days of early voting remaining, it didn’t seem outside the realm of possibility that the 12-year-old early voting record could be surpassed by the end of the week.
In 2006, a total of 4,531 voters cast ballots during the two-week early voting period, a record that still stands. That election cycle featured a high-profile sheriff’s race between three-term incumbent Jim Carson and newcomer Anthony Lay, as well as several eight-year judicial offices — among them, a public defender’s race that saw Oneida native Leif Jeffers squaring off against longtime incumbent Martha Yoakum of Claiborne County.
While a strong finish will be needed to eclipse the 2006 early vote total, turnout as of the end of the day Monday was just 1,443 short of 2014’s early vote total of 4,291 — which was an eight-year low.
A record number of opening-day voters — 490 — turned out on July 13 to kick off the early voting period. However, the first day of early voting also set records in the 2014 and 2010 elections, and both of those early voting cycles featured lower overall turnout than 2006. Both election cycles featured overall voter turnout of about 54 percent, with around four out of every 10 voters choosing to wait until election day to cast their ballots.
Slightly higher voter turnout is anticipated this year, with a number of hotly-contested races on the ballot both at the county level and at the district level. Fueling the extra attention on this year’s race is the retirement of three officials whose offices are up for re-election. Of the eight county-wide races on the ballot, five are contested, with three featuring five or more candidates.
Those three races are county mayor, register of deeds and county clerk. The first two feature five candidates each; the latter will see six candidates square off.
A number of district races are seen as neck-and-neck, especially county commission races in the 1st, 2nd and 7th districts.
The county mayor’s race finds incumbent Dale Perdue facing opposition from four challengers: Oneida businessman Harold Brooks, retired U.S. Army veteran Michael Lloyd, current 4th District County Commissioner and paramedic Rick Russ, and former county mayor Jeff Tibbals.
In the register of deeds race, five people are seeking to replace the retiring Benjie Rector. Among them are Oneida businessman Kevin Bilbrey, former register of deeds office employee Mary Hall, former Verizon store manager and current Samsung district representative Stuart Jones, current deputy register Ashley Riseden and Scott County Ambulance Service employee Chris Wilson.
In the county clerk race, six people are vying to replace the retiring Pat Phillips. Among them are her niece, Felicia Bilbrey, former circuit court clerk’s office and D.A.’s office employee Sandi Chambers, Oneida Sonic manager Peggy Duncan, long-time health department employee Pat Massengale, Oneida businessman Mark Matthews, and former clerk’s office employee Christin Neal.
The race for road superintendent will see current road department supervisor Kelvin King squaring off against Oneida contractor Dale Boyatt, who sought the office in the 2014 election. Incumbent superintendent Dick Sexton is retiring.
The sheriff’s race will feature just one name on the ballot — incumbent Ronnie Phillips, who is seeking a second term — but former sheriff Anthony Lay is mounting a write-in campaign to challenge Phillips.
The other three county-wide office-holders up for re-election are without opposition. They are Trustee Jimmy D. Byrd, Circuit Court Clerk Donnie Phillips and County Attorney John Beaty.
At the district level, several contested battles for County Commission’s 14 seats are shaping up. In fact, only two districts feature candidates without competition. Incumbent Patti Brown is likely to be re-elected in the 6th District of Oneida, and likely to be joined by past candidate and ETHRA driver Donnie Bowlin, as those are the only two candidates on the ballot there. In the 3rd District of Huntsville, meanwhile, incumbent Sheila Buttram and former commissioner Kenny Morrow are the only candidates on the ballot.
Things heat up considerably in some of the other districts, perhaps most notably in the 2nd District. There, incumbent Sam Lyles is joined on the ballot by a host of others. Among them are former commissioner Leonard Bertram, who served several terms before opting against another run in 2010; Jerried Jeffers, a Sheriff’s Department sergeant who is the son of retiring commissioner June Jeffers; Don Tyndall and David Woodard, who had strong showings in the 2014 election; and political newcomer Jennifer Honeycutt Dishman of the Low Gap community.
The 7th District commission race also promises to be close; incumbents Rick Burke and Mike Slaven are opposed by Benny B. Carson and Michael Knight.
One of the most crowded fields is seen in the 1st District, where incumbent David “Blue” Day is on the ballot along with former commissioner David Jeffers, past candidate Robert “Speedy” Blevins, Randall Hamilton, Ledford Harness, Jacob Hughett and Jason Jeffers.
In the 4th District, incumbent Kenny Chadwell is one of four candidates on the ballot, along with Shonda Gray, James “Bud” Lackey and Fred Phillips.
In the 5th District, appointed incumbent Paul Strunk, who was appointed by the commission to fill the unexpired term of Trent Cross, who resigned earlier this year, is on the ballot with two others: former commissioner Harold Chambers and Joe Tramell Jr.
There is guaranteed to be at least six new faces on the commission, with several incumbents not seeking re-election. Those not running include Eric Newport in the 1st District, Jeffers in the 2nd District, Ernest Phillips in the 3rd District, Rick Russ in the 4th District, Robyn McBroom in the 5th District and Robin Newman in the 6th District.
Things are somewhat quieter in the county school board races. Incumbent Tommy Silcox is unopposed in his re-election bid in the 1st District, and incumbent Kimberly Kidd has one challenger — Johnny Russ — in the 4th District. Likewise, incumbent Esther Abbott has one opponent — Jim McDonald — in the 5th District. In the 7th District, Sharon Hall Marcum and Derek Sexton are squaring off in a bid to replace John V. Thompson Sr., who is retiring from the board. Marcum is the sister of director of schools Bill Hall, while Sexton is a school resource officer assigned to Burchfield School in the 7th District with the Scott County Sheriff’s Office.
In Oneida, three seats on the special school district board of education are being sought by five candidates. Incumbents Brom Shoemaker and Dorothy Watson are joined on the ballot by women’s shelter director Shonda Duncan, retired educator Sandy West Martin, and Oneida businessman Jason Perry. Matthews is an incumbent on the board but passed up an opportunity for re-election in order to seek election to the clerk’s office.