With a large number of early voting numbers not fully factored in, incumbent Bill Chappell appeared to be on his way Tuesday night to a big win over challenger Herman Ayers.
Chappell tallied 10,332 votes, or 58.8 percent, among votes cast on Tuesday, compared to 7,218 votes or 41.1 percent for Ayers. Looking at early-voting figures from several machine totals, the trend of Chappell over Ayers held steady, to the point where Ayers himself had conceded the race Tuesday night.
Ayers said many of the revelations that were reported about Chappell, such as the fact that he is being investigated by the Secretary of State’s Office for allegedly campaigning in a polling place, came too late to make a difference in the race because a large segment of the county - about 41 percent - had already voted in advance of election day.
“This early voting killed me,” Ayers said.
Chappell, contacted by phone late Tuesday night, declined to comment on the race.
In the race for District 3 county commissioner, Republican Ashley Hendrix handily defeated Democrat Mac Pilgrim. Hendrix won 72 percent of the vote, to 28 percent for Pilgrim, not including early-voting and absentee numbers which hadn’t been fully tabulated.
“I’m excited,” Hendrix said. “I commend Mac Pilgrim for running a great campaign and I look forward to January.”
Hendrix said her first priority would be to “open the lines of communication” with District 3 constituents. She plans to hold town hall meetings in the district on at least a quarterly basis. “Budgetary constraints will be the top priority,” she said.
Chappell and Ayers squared off early and often in this race.
Ayers accused Chappell of lacking in integrity. Chappell shot back by questioning his opponent’s intelligence and painting him as a tax-and-spend liberal who couldn’t be trusted to be in charge of county finances at a time when the national economy is faltering and county budgets are tightening.
Chappell was successful in his attempt to link his opponent to the policies of former Commission Chairman Robert Barr, who resigned before the end of his term at a time when the county’s financial condition was in shambles.
Ayers had been elected commissioner for District 6 in 1998. In 2007, facing a deficit of more than $5 million due to unexpected health insurance costs, the board made the decision to raise the property tax rate by three mills.
With that tax increase still fresh in voters’ minds, Chappell had a compelling campaign issue that Ayers simply couldn’t overcome.
Chappell himself had to overcome accusations that he misappropriated county special purpose local option sales tax funds. Ayers accused him of using money in a joint SPLOST/Department of Transportation account to fund what Ayers called a severance package for three county employees who lost their jobs due to budget cuts.
They were collectively paid $55,000 for future consulting work on “SPLOST-related projects,” according to a settlement that also prevented them from suing the county over the loss of their jobs. One of the former employees, Joe Shaw, is slated to receive an additional $50,000 on Jan. 1. None of the employees has performed any known consulting work to date. Chappell is still under investigation by two state agencies - the Attorney General’s Office and the Secretary of State’s Office - for complaints that he may have flouted the state’s Open Meetings and Open Records laws and broken an election law that forbids campaigning within 150 feet of a polling place.
The large voter turnout generated by a high-profile presidential election and a closely-fought U.S. Senate race certainly did not hurt Chappell in a heavily Republican county. Many of the Carroll County Republicans who flocked to the polls in an effort to elect John McCain and re-elect Saxby Chambliss to the U.S. Senate also voted straight ticket in the local races that included sheriff, county commission chairman, tax commissioner and the District 3 commissioner’s seat. All of these local offices went to Republicans on Tuesday.