by Mark Millican
One in five registered Gilmer County voters turned out to vote in a special election Tuesday, easily passing a renewal of the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) and giving two candidates for Commission Post 1 a chance to campaign again in a runoff.
Dallas Miller captured the majority of votes for the chance to fill the unexpired term of late Commissioner Randy Bell, earning 1,136 votes out of 13 precincts, or 40.23 percent of those who voted. Leon Watkins was the runner-up with 820 votes, or 29.04 percent. Both candidates ran as Republicans.
Since neither candidate captured 50 percent plus one vote in the Nov. 5 election, there will be a runoff election between Miller and Watkins Tuesday, Dec. 3, according to election manager Gary Watkins.
A total of 2,847 ballots were cast in the election out of 14,136 registered county voters, for a 20.14 percentage of those caring to vote.
Rounding out the seven-candidate field was Howard Green in third with 343 votes, or 12.15 percent; fourth was Jerry Tuso with 234 votes, or 8.29 percent; taking fifth was Mayra Torres with 177 votes, or 6.27 percent; Jenifer Hendershot was sixth with 81 tallies, or 2.87 percent; and Martin Wintermantel was seventh with 29 votes, or 1.03 percent. There were four total write-in votes.
The SPLOST renewal passed with 2,121 yes votes and 698 votes against, a 3-to-1 margin.
“Being the first time I’ve ever been in this, I had no idea what was going to happen,” Miller said just after the votes were tallied in the county probate offices. “I’m happy all my supporters did the work — I didn’t do it. I met hundreds of people, and look forward to meeting more people.”
Miller thanked the other candidates for running and working hard to try and help the county.
“This is a great county, and I look forward to keeping it great,” he said.
Watkins said he was “going to have to get to work” in preparation for the runoff.
“I look forward to it,” he said afterwards. “May the best man win.”
The two runoff candidates shook hands and hugged after the final results were read by Watkins.
Green was stoic about his third-place finish.
“I wanted to run to represent the people,” he said Tuesday night. “I’m OK with it, it’s not the end of the world. I hope whoever’s elected will do a good job representing the people.”
Tuso did not immediately return a phone call Tuesday evening.
Torres felt the race was a positive experience.
“I won, no matter what,” she said. “I have a lot of friends and family supporting me. I just hope and trust that whoever wins will do the job and they mean it. It’s all good. I ran the best I could.”
Hendershot noted she didn’t campaign but said she felt “fine” with her finish.
“I’m happy,” she said. “It was a good learning experience, and I’m grateful for the people who voted for me.”
Wintermantel also said the election was “a good experience.”
“I’m not defeated, I just have my work cut out for me in the future,” he said. “I need to get out and shake more hands and meet more people.”
The results Tuesday night were “unofficial and incomplete,” said Probate Judge Anita Mullins, explaining that provisional ballots would have to be approved before final results are sent to the state elections office. She said that should be done by Thursday.
Staff writer Ryan Rees contributed to this article.