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George on Georgia – The Upside-Down Election

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George on Georgia – The Upside-Down Election

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File Photo provided by Dena Mellick


Editor’s note: For all of our elections coverage, visit Decaturishvotes.com

We are a week beyond the Upside-Down Election, and we still don’t know who won the squeakers.

As of midnight Wednesday, it looks like Sheriff Melody Maddox has narrowly avoided a runoff against a platoon of challengers for the next term, but she may face a runoff against Ruth Stringer to complete her existing term … which makes no sense at all. It looks like Yolanda Parker-Smith missed an outright win for a Superior Court seat by about 7,000 votes, and will face Mindy Pillow in a runoff. It also looks like Rev. Kim Jackson will take over the seat held by state Sen. Steve Henson next year, when she’s not ministering hip-deep in tear gas.

But we don’t know, because the elections office is still counting. About 150,000 more people in DeKalb County registered to vote this year for the general primary compared to 2016, and most of them voted. 70,500 people voted in the state primaries four years ago; 160,517 voted in the 2016 presidential primary. But even now, with the presidential primaries decided, at least 191,797 cast a ballot this time. And about 100,000 of those ballots were mailed in.

Donald Trump lost DeKalb’s Republicans four years ago – Rubio was the preferred candidate here.

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Andy Yeoman, a Doraville city councilmember, wryly noted this year that “10% of Republicans in Dekalb county put shoes on and went all the way to the polls to vote in the Republican Primary and chose not to vote for Donald Trump. They skipped the presidential race and filled out the rest of the ballot. 1,455 voters voted for David Perdue for Senate but not for the President of the United States.”

I was at the elections office on election night, and they had stacks of ballots three feet high and six feet deep on tables in the back room. I gave up at 1 a.m. after doing the math in my head and realizing they couldn’t be done before Friday. It was a nightmare even though we avoid the antidemocratic hell Fulton County imposed on voters.

“While I can’t speak for the entire (board of commissioners), I can confidently say, the BOC was prepared in the past, and I believe, remains prepared, to allocate whatever is needed to the Elections Department/BOE to successfully conduct elections,” wrote DeKalb commissioner Nancy Jester on Tuesday. “The legitimacy of the government depends on the credibility of elections. I have communicated my concerns and frustrations to the Chairman of the BOE. I have told him, in no uncertain terms, that this fiasco has undermined trust and credibility with the citizens.”

Not only do we not know who won, but we also don’t know how anyone won. We don’t know if people campaigned well or poorly because, frankly, we don’t really know how anyone managed to campaign amid a plague.

If I had wanted someone to lose an election this year, I might have dressed up well-paid volunteers in that candidate’s t-shirts and sent them knocking on doors. Seeing someone rolling up to strangers on my street this year was instantly disqualifying.

One thing is clear: the Democratic trend toward favoring women candidates may have increased in intensity this time. Consider the Georgia Supreme Court race here. I mean … no one cares, really … but that’s the point. Bear with me.

The Supreme Court race is illuminating because I can count on one hand the number of people in this county who gave one rancid whit about either candidate. Both Beth Beskin and Charlie Bethel are relatively moderate Republicans. Neither lives in DeKalb County. Neither had significant name recognition. Neither really campaigned, since there’s really only so much you can do to campaign as a judicial candidate. Bethel was the incumbent, and that usually pulls some votes.

Beskin outpolled Bethel in DeKalb by about 20 points. I’m going to say that being a woman running against men is worth at least 15 points here.

It would explain to a degree how a relatively unknown candidate, Cynthia Yaxon, who has made no campaign finance filings and thus could not have legally spent money on campaign advertising, apparently managed to narrowly take first place in the Democratic primary to try to unseat Commissioner Nancy Jester in November. Yaxon was the only woman running. She will face former Doraville City Councilman Robert Patrick in a runoff.

Deidre Pierce, a well-regarded school board candidate, also faced three men for the job. She is in a runoff against perennial candidate Willie Mosley Jr. In a straight contest with one man and one woman, Anna Hill beat Andrew Ziffler 58-41.

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I know there’s more to it, and I can hear the peals of objections to come. I don’t mean to diminish anyone’s hard-fought victory and I am not suggesting that winners are undeserving. But people are not deep, and people stop paying attention once you get into local races. I present Sandra Bullock as my evidence.

We have the problems we do in America because of this. One might think that voting at home, with all the time in the world to Google someone, would moderate this. Alas.

I’m a social media lunatic, online all day long, and I cannot recall seeing a single advertisement except in the 6th district commission race. I live in the 7th district.

I am honestly surprised that Emily Halevy did not make a runoff there. Maryam Ahmad has been deftly using social media and may have benefitted from a viral video a few days before the election as she captured a white guy angrily ripping protest signs from the Confederate monument on the Decatur square. But as the vote count increased, former Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry overtook her for first place.

Larry Lowe, a Democratic political activist in DeKalb, sifted through the election results and noticed that most of Terry’s votes arrived by mail while Ahmad’s voters turned out on Election Day. “The challenge for Maryam is getting her people back to the polls,” he wrote. Ahmad’s best districts are south of I-20 around Oak View and Cedar Grove Elementary. Terry’s are in the rapidly-gentrifying areas of east Atlanta. The northern segments of the county look like a jump ball in a runoff.

Michele Henson, seniormost of DeKalb’s state legislators, faces Zulma Lopez in a runoff that will also depend on the difference between the preferences of voters with mail-in ballots and those who show up on Election Day.

But we really don’t know the difference yet. It’s a new world.  

– George Chidi is a political columnist and public policy advocate.

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