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Most elections too close to call, absentee ballots still out after midnight

Local races may still be in limbo as absentee ballot counting stalled Tuesday night because of technical issues.

The election day and early voting totals were in relatively early, but over 11,000 absentee ballots still weren’t tallied as of 1 a.m.

On the Republican ballot, State Rep. Katie Dempsey looked like a solid winner to keep her seat. As of late Tuesday, Dempsey led Republican challenger Brad Barnes by 1,755 votes to his 499.

Another race that appeared to have a solid frontrunner is the Floyd County Chief Magistrate’s race. Incumbent Gene Richardson led with 4,070 votes compared to challenger Justin Hight’s 2,622.

What may be the longest-running sheriff’s race in Floyd County history was still inconclusive, but Dave Roberson was the clear leader in the primary election day results.

Roberson had 2,841 votes to Tom Caldwell’s 1,622 and Ronnie Kilgo’s 962, enough to avoid a runoff if the outstanding absentee ballots maintain the trend.

One race that’s neck and neck in the counted ballots is the clerk of Superior Court race. Incumbent Barbara Penson had a lead of around 300 votes over challenger Joe Costolnick. Penson brought in 2,749 to Colstolnick’s 2,446 as of late Tuesday.

On the Democratic ballot, Floyd County voters joined the state majority to choose longtime environmental advocate Daniel Blackman as their nominee to run for the Georgia Public Service Commission’s District 4 seat. He will face face veteran Republican Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald in November.

As for presidential preference primary, Floyd County added 5,080 votes to President Donald Trump’s total and 1,029 votes to give former Vice President Joe Biden the Democratic nomination.

Floyd County voters also mirrored state voters and selected John Ossoff as their choice for the Democratic Party candidate to run against Sen. David Perdue in November.

There were several issues in counting the massive number of absentee ballots cast in the race. Chief Elections Clerk Robert Brady said they had technical complications with the ballot counting machines.

A number of times through the evening, local elections officials were on the phone with the state’s tech support — and were again at just after midnight. The machines appeared to not want to read some ballots and Brady attributed it to having two contests condensed into one day.

Brady said there were several problems Tuesday morning, but he described them as annoyances, rather than full blown issues.

“Nobody turned anybody away and nothing caused long lines,” Brady said.

More than one precinct opened late and one piece of voting equipment had a low battery and had to be replaced with another piece of equipment, Brady said.

Bald eagle survey shows a drop in egg production across North Georgia

The Berry College bald eagle nest failed to produce any young eaglets this year, but that was not unusual among the nesting territories across North Georgia.

Bob Sargent, program manager with the Department of Natural Resources, said more than half of the nests north of a line from Rabun to Hall across Bartow and Floyd, then up to Dade counties failed to fledge young this year.

For the Berry nest, it marked the second unsuccessful year in row. Last year both of the eggs hatched but both young died within a week.

This year neither of the two eggs even hatched.

Heavier than normal rainfall from January through March, the peak of the nesting season, is suspected to have been a major culprit, according to Sargent

Berry professor Renee Carleton said the nesting material, pine straw, which when it gets wet, holds water which can promote fungal and bacterial growth.

“I don’t think that people realize that egg shells have pores in them because the embryo has to receive oxygen from the outside as it’s developing,” Carleton said. “It’s very likely that there was early embryonic death and so no development because of those conditions.”

Professor Carleton said that even if the eggs had hatched, she felt it could have been likely the young could have contracted some sort of pneumonia-like disease and not survived.

“I think Bob’s evidence perfectly backs up that hypothesis,” Carleton said. “The coast didn’t have the same amount of rain we did so they had their typical success rate,” Carleton said.

Sargent and DNR staff conducted aerial surveys in three regions of the state this year, counting 117 active nests across six coastal counties, a section of East Georgia between I-85 and I-16 and the northern tier of the state. The northern counties included 15 nesting territories

Of the 117 active nests observed this year, 82 nests produces 126 young eagles which is roughly equivalent to the long term state average.

Six coastal counties, Bryan, Chatham, Glynn, Liberty, Camden and McIntosh were home to at least 35 percent of the state’s active nests.

Of the 15 nests across the northern tier of the state, seven nests produced a total of 11 eaglets.

Three of those came from one nest at Lake Blue Ridge.

Carleton believes the North Georgia nesting population is a result of range expansion from the coastal areas. She credits the large man-made reservoirs, Weiss, Allatoona and Carters, with providing the habitat for the expansion of the population.

“Our weather conditions here fluctuate a lot more than they do on the coast so our populations here are going to be more sensitive to those fluctuations than the coastal birds are,” Carleton said.

The public is encouraged to report eagle nests via georgiawildlife.com/bald-eagle, 478-994-1438 or bob.sargent@dnr.ga.gov. Although de-listed from the federal Endangered Species Act in 2007, eagles are protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and state law. In Georgia, the species is state-listed as threatened.

Lilah Shrader, a second-grader at Model Elementary School

Called meeting to discuss confederate statue moved to Rome City Auditorium

A special called meeting of Rome’s Community Development Committee has been moved to the Rome City Auditorium on Friday at 10 a.m. to discuss the statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest at the base of Myrtle Hill.

People can watch the meeting on the city's Facebook page live at 10 a.m.

Two people petitioned the City Commission during its regular meeting on Monday to have the statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest — a controversial figure who was a general in the Confederate army — removed from the plaza at the base of Myrtle Hill Cemetery on the way into South Rome.

One of the petitioners, Wes Walraven, said that he’d heard two arguments over the years for keeping the statue. One was to remember the heritage of this area and the other was that people should learn from history.

“As an American, I don’t consider General Nathan Bedford Forrest as part of my heritage,” Walraven told commissioners. “He is a part of the heritage of the Confederate States of America, an illegitimate treasonous government that lasted five years in the history of this great nation.”

He compared the placement of the statue to post-war Germany erecting a statue to a Nazi general on the outskirts of a Jewish neighborhood.

A petition on Change.org authored by Abby Sklar, who also spoke on Monday, had over 3,000 signatures in support of removing the statue as of Tuesday evening.

“It is past time that this statue is moved to a battleground memorial where it belongs,” Walraven told commissioners. “It has no business anymore on public land at the entrance to a historically predominantly black neighborhood.”

He asked commissioners to consider preparing the necessary request to have the statue moved. Georgia has laws concerning the removal of statues and last year Gov. Brian Kemp signed a bill into law that made it even more difficult to relocate the monuments.

Many statues of Confederate generals or memorials were placed during two periods of history. One was from 1900 to the 1920s, during the Jim Crow era, and the other was from 1956 to 1965, during the civil rights movement.

Two monuments, including the statue of Forrest, were placed on Broad Street in 1908 and 1910.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy sponsored the statue of Forrest, who was hailed as “the savior of Rome” because his troops drove off Union raiders in 1863. And the Sons of Confederate Veterans raised funds to celebrate the sacrifices made by local women during the Civil War.

The monuments stood in the middle of Broad Street until calls to remove them started in 1949. They were then moved to Myrtle Hill Cemetery in 1952. The overt reason to move the statues off Broad Street was cited as traffic.

Forrest is accused of calling for the massacre of approximately 300 black Union soldiers at Fort Pillow in Tennessee during the Civil War and is credited as the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

Runoffs could send voters back to the polls in 14th District race

A runoff is almost certain in the Republican primary for Northwest Georgia’s 14th Congressional District seat — although thousands of absentee ballots were still being counted late Tuesday night.

Marjorie Taylor Greene was the clear frontrunner among nine candidates seeking to replace U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, who is not running for reelection. John Cowan was holding a steady second place with John Barge a distant third.

Candidates must take at least one vote more than 50% to win the election outright. Otherwise, the top two vote-getters face off for the nomination.

Democrat Kevin Van Ausdal had an uncontested win and will face the Republican nominee in November. The district covers 12 counties in the northwest corner of the state, including Floyd, Polk, Chattooga and Gordon.

Greene, an Alpharetta businesswoman who moved her campaign base to Floyd County, was pulling just over 40% of the vote districtwide close to midnight.

Cowan, a Rome neurosurgeon and business owner, was ahead of Greene by more than 200 votes in Floyd County but was polling about 19% overall. Barge, a former state school superintendent who lives in Rome, was maintaining about 8.5% of the district vote.

The other candidates were Clayton Fuller and Bill Hembree, with around 7% each, Kevin Cooke, Matt Laughridge, Ben Bullock and Andy Gunther.

Runoff elections are scheduled for Aug. 11, with three weeks of early voting beginning July 20.

“We’ll take all the equipment down and start on the next one,” said Robert Brady, chief elections clerk for Floyd County.

Voters can’t cross over to vote in the other party’s runoff. However, anyone who didn’t vote in a different party’s primary and was registered by the May 11 deadline is eligible to vote in a runoff.

“It’s simple,” Brady said. “If you voted in the primary, you need to vote in the same party’s runoff. If you didn’t vote, you could vote in either party’s runoff.”

Georgia has open primaries. That means voters don’t register by party and may ask for either the Democrat or Republican ballot.

Candidates from all parties will be on the Nov. 3 general election ballot and voters may select any nominee as their choice for an office.

Little daylight has come between the staunchly conservative candidates in terms of policy points. In last month’s Atlanta Press Club primary debate, they alternated between praise for President Donald Trump, disdain for congressional Democrats and a handful of jabs at each other.

Greene stressed that her staunchly conservative values align with many of the district’s voters and touted endorsements from influential members of Congress like U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio.

She also faced criticism for deciding to back out of the 6th Congressional District race earlier this year and enter the 14th District contest. Barge labeled Greene an “opportunist.”

Cowan was criticized by some candidates during the debate for buying products made in China and not in Northwest Georgia for his toy business. He defended his practices, saying he has experience negotiating with Chinese manufacturers.

“I’ve been tougher on China than anyone on this panel because I’ve actually engaged them,” Cowan said.

Cowan also said last month he favors moves to reopen local economies emerging from the coronavirus pandemic amid his background in the medical field and that there needs to be a balance between science and economic needs.