The long race to succeed Floyd County Sheriff Tim Burkhalter will continue for another two months.
During the protracted count of thousands of absentee ballots that dragged into Thursday morning, Tom Caldwell nibbled away at a big lead that Dave Roberson enjoyed during the count of in-person ballots on Tuesday night.
In the end, he reeled Roberson back under the 50% plus one majority level to force a runoff.
There is no Democratic candidate on the ballot so the winner of the runoff essentially wins the seat.
“Every time a batch would come in, it was like, ‘Do we have enough to keep it below 50%?’” Caldwell said. “If you can’t get excited about the sheriff’s race now, you’re just not paying attention.”
When the final ballots were tabulated, Roberson led the way with 7,130 votes, equal to 48.1%. Caldwell received 5,079 votes, 34.3%, and Ronnie Kilgo took 2,598, which is 17.5%.
Kilgo posed with Roberson for a photo posted to social media early Thursday where he was holding one of Roberson's campaign signs. In the post, Roberson thanked Kilgo for his support.
Roberson said he knew all along that with three candidates in the race, there was a strong likelihood of a runoff.
“This doesn’t deter me in any way,” Roberson said. “I’m not discouraged, just looking forward to getting back out, meeting more people and earning more votes.”
Roberson said he will be focused on reminding all of his supporters that they need to come back to the polls again in August.
In light of the protests that have occurred across the nation during the past month, both Roberson and Caldwell have expressed concern about the need for additional diversity within the sheriff’s office, particularly in positions of leadership.
“When I talk about recruitment and retention, we need to broaden the diversity in the sheriff’s office,” Roberson said. “I think we need to encourage that for our future leaders.”
Caldwell said he’s talked at community forums during the campaign about the lack of diversity across law enforcement in Rome and Floyd County.
“I don’t think people are going to trust us as much until we look more like the community, and we’re not doing that,” Caldwell said. “I want to participate in recruiting, myself.”
Caldwell said he’s looking at the runoff campaign as if it was a whole new election and both candidates are starting from zero.
“You have to turn your people back out to vote again.” Caldwell said. “If you’re in our position, there’s excitement that you’re still in the game and that helps.”
Roberson does not plan to alter any of his campaign strategy over the course of the next eight weeks.
“I’m going to stay positive, stay focused on the employees and the needs of the community,” Roberson said. “That’s the way it’s been from the get-go. I’m going to stay on the same course.”
Voters must have been registered by May 11 to vote in the Aug. 11 runoff. And, since this is an extension of the Republican primary, no one who voted in Tuesday’s Democratic primary is eligible to weigh in.
Early voting is slated to begin on July 20 and continue through Aug. 7.