TERRA HENDERSON Staff Writer
Local election races are tightening in what is expected to be the most competitive election season that Chatham County has seen in a while.
The US Senate race in Division 12 Class II, promises to be the closest election where the residents of Chatham County are concerned. Incumbent Saxby Chambliss (R) was first elected in 2002 to the US Senate, but the overturning of Congress to the Democratic majority in 2006 does not necessarily guarantee his return to the Senate next year. His competitor, former Georgia House Representative Jim Martin (D) has raised nearly 3 million dollars for his campaign, which offers a threat to Chambliss’s campaign that has raised 7.6 million.
During his freshman term, Chambliss served on the Rules Committee, the Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Senate Armed Services Committee, in which he prevented closures of military bases in his district. Martin maintained his seat in the Georgia General Assembly for 18 years, chairing the Judiciary Committee, the Ethics Committee, and a subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee before he became the head of the Georgia Department of Human Resources. The two candidates have been a mere three points apart on average in the polls, with Chambliss in the forefront.
A close race for Chatham County Sheriff is indicated by aggressive campaigns from both sides. Sheriff Al St. Lawrence (R) has served in his current position for sixteen years and for the twenty-one years prior served as the Chief of Police. This gives him more experience with local enforcement as opposed to his opponent Mike Jones (D), who has served fifteen years with the Chatham County Sheriff Department.
Although Mike Jones does not have the experience enjoyed by the incumbent, he promises to use his managerial perspective which he gained working at International Paper. He proposes to cut rising costs in the department by putting inmates to work and urging judges to have nighttime proceedings. St. Lawrence reminds voters that he has kept busy while serving as Sheriff by instating a sex offender tracking unit, an undercover fugitive apprehension team, and is currently expanding the Chatham County Detention Center.
Congressman John J. Barrow (D) and John Erwin Stone (R) are running for District 12, with a 1.9 million dollar fundraising gap. Barrow won reelection with only 864 votes, so this race will be close. Georgia State Representative Bob Bryant (D) from the 160th District runs unopposed.
Early voting turnout for this election was higher than projected. The state of Georgia hadn’t anticipated this high of a turnout when they set a goal of 1 million early voters. According to the Secretary of State’s Election Division, 1,778,317 ballots were cast in person. A further 242,522 ballots were mailed in. Out of the 139,000 residents that are registered in Chatham County, 26,824 made it to the polls last week in order to cast their ballots before Election Day.
The lines also elongated substantially throughout the week, with the wait going from a mere thirty minutes on Monday to 4 hours by Friday. Election officials are admittedly overwhelmed by the turnout and expect the wait on Tuesday to range anywhere from 6 to 8 hours.