Of the 40,336 registered voters in Walker County, 54.8 percent cast their ballot — either on election day, or beforehand through early in-person or absentee mail-in voting.
The high turnout was likely spurred in part by a contentious sole county commissioner’s race between incument Bebe Heiskell and write-in challenger Ales Campbell.
According to the current unofficial and incomplete counts from the Walker County board of elections, Ales Campbell received a total of 5,726 confirmed write-in votes. Of the 22,105 total ballots cast, 13,380 votes went toward incumbent commissioner Bebe Heiskell. Subtracting Campbell’s 5,726 write-in votes suggests that the remaining 2,999 voters either did not select a candidate for the commissioner’s race or entered a write-in that could not be or has not yet been counted. All results are still unofficial and incomplete until the elections office is able to certify them, which likely won’t be until Friday, Nov. 9.
Write-in candidate votes cannot be as easily tabulated as those for other candidates, as they must be hand-verified to determine if spelling and intent match a candidate’s name; this process can take considerably more time. Even if all 2,999 unaccounted votes should be verified for Campbell, it would still not push her over the 50 percent mark toward a win, though it would make for a even stronger showing considering the relative rarity of a write-in candidate.
Despite her defeat, Campbell was pleased at the turnout and the support she has received throughout her campaign.
“I’m disappointed,” she said. “But I am so grateful to the voters of Walker County. That many people voted for a write-in candidate – that’s a big thing for me. I want to say thank you, and I will still be here working on the issues that I started. I am not going away.”
When asked if she will run again in 2016, Campbell replied “Yes, absolutely.”
Commissioner Bebe Heiskell is all set to begin her fourth term, and is happy that the people of Walker County reelected her in such numbers.
“I was very pleased,” she said. “I carried every precinct except LaFayette and Center Post, and they were close. I was very pleased with the turnout and the outcome.”
Heiskell credits Campbell with running a strong campaign, especially in the social media world, which Heiskell admits she has never much utilized.
“I appreciate her hard work,” she said.
The campaign between the two, which did sometimes manifest itself in less-than-polite ways online, was “the most difficult one I’ve been through,” said Heiskell. “I think a lot of that had to do with being fought in the social media.”
“We have a few people in Walker County that really really hate me that have never met me and don’t even know me,” she said.
Campbell ran on a campaign that focused on pushing a referendum to Walker County voters to determine whether a multi-member board of commission style of government was the more popular choice in this day and age, and if so, asking the Georgia legislature to allow that change to occur.
“I’ve never had anyone approach me about it. I’d never heard anyone mention it until (Paul) Shaw’s campaign,” Heiskell said.
“It’s not something that’s in demand in Walker County. Catoosa County calls me and wants to talk to me sometimes and says they wish they still had a sole commissioner form of government.”
Heiskell hopes to focus on job creation, community development and road building during this next term, and she admits that the upcoming year is most likely going to be a difficult one financially for Walker County.
“I’ve been saying it for awhile that 2013 is going to be a very very difficult year,” she said. “We’ve lost tax digest and I don’t know what’s going to happen with this LOST (local option sales tax) thing. I don’t know how much revenue we’re going to lose.”
Heiskell did not yet have a date for the LOST negotiations, but noted that she is planning for it “right away.”
As for whether this is going to be Heiskell’s last term, she is open to continuing her political career, but she cannot yet say.
“I don’t really know. I don’t want to predict the future right now.”
Walker County sheriff Steve Wilson was re-elected to his fifth term with the largest margin (80.5 percent) of victory in his career.
“I am thankful for the overwhelming support that I received,” Wilson said. “Receiving over eighty percent of the vote is very humbling.”
He considers it a new career milestone as his previous margin of victory had been 74 percent in 2008.
“I don’t know of anyone else that was in a contested race that has received that (amount),” Wilson said. “It’s really special to know that I still have the confidence of the voters and the citizens of this county.”
Wilson’s supporters gathered at The Bank of LaFayette community room and watched the elections updates in a more and more relaxed and jubilant manner as the margin of victory grew.
“I was as happy and thrilled last night as I was in the first election back in ninety-six,” Wilson said.
The celebration included a video montage of campaign highlights from 2012 and photos of his “biggest supporter” – his father George Wilson – who had passed away since the last election.
“With me and my brother both winning, he would be doubly proud of us and he would be exstatic to know both of his sons were elected last night,” Wilson said. “We missed him terribly last night.”
Dale Wilson successfully ran for Post 4 on the Walker County school board.
“At the end of this term I will have achieved another milestone of (matching) sheriff Ralph Jones with 20 years,” Wilson said.
Wilson will “likely consider” running for a sixth term in the next few years, depending on his health.
“You just never know what the future will hold,” he said. “I would still be young enough to run if my health is good.”
Defeated sheriff’s candidate Tim Westbrook could not be reached for comment the day after the election.