In a county where Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly three-to-one, voters made it known Tuesday that they lean sharply to the red state side of the ballot box.
In addition to giving Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney 65 percent of the vote (one percentage point better than John McCain did four years ago), Franklin County voters split nearly exactly evenly between incumbent U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, the eventual victor, and his Republican challenger Connie Mack, with both getting 48.7 percent of the vote. Just one vote separated their total among Franklin County voters, with Nelson taking 2,616 and Mack 2,615.
In Congressional District 2, incumbent Republican Steve Southerland (Panama City) won nearly 59 percent support among county voters, more than five percentage points than he did overall, as he fended off a stiff challenge from Democrat Al Lawson (Tallahassee).
In the race for County Commission District 1, which encompasses Eastpoint and St. George Island, incumbent Pinki Jackel, 54, who four years ago became the first Republican in modern times to win a county commission seat, easily outdistanced her Democratic challenger Tony Shiver, 52, to secure a second term.
In District 5, which includes portions of Eastpoint east into Carrabelle, Democrat William Massey, 53, swamped by a better than three-to-one margin his opponent, Hank Garrett, 48, who ran without party affiliation.
In the contest to fill the Florida House District 7 seat, vacated by Democrat Leonard Bembry, Tallahassee nurseryman Halsey Beshears, the Republican candidate, won the same percentage of county voters, about 60 percent, as he did throughout the sprawling district to top Liberty County Clerk of Court Robert Hill, the Democrat.
In Florida Senate District 3, incumbent Democrat Bill Montford secured 60 percent of support among county voters, about 12 percentage points lower than his overall total, as he was victorious over Republican John Shaw.
In the race for state attorney in the 2nd Judicial Circuit, Republican challenger Pete Williams secured 57 percent support among county voters, eight percentage points better than he did overall, but it wasn’t enough to eke out a win against incumbent Democrat Willie Meggs, who was returned to office with 51 percent of the vote.
In the non-partisan race for circuit judge of the 2nd Judicial Circuit, Barbara Hobbs secured about 52 percent support among county voters, and went on to a win over incumbent Josefina Tamayo.
Franklin County voters’ views of the 11 amendments to the Florida Constitution that were on the ballot were the same as Florida voters overall. More than 60 percent of voters, the threshold needed for approval, said yes to amendments 2, 9 and 11, with the other eight amendments all going down to defeat.
Passed were the Disabled Vet Homestead Discount, which expands homestead exemption to veterans who were not Florida residents when they entered military service; the Military Spouse Tax Exemption, which gives homestead tax relief to surviving spouses of veterans and first responders killed in the line of duty; and Additional Homestead Exemption, which will grant full homestead property tax relief to low-income seniors who have lived in their home for at least 25 years.
Of the three members of the Florida Supreme Court, and four from the District 1 Court of Appeals, who were on the ballot, county voters gave a majority vote of approval to each of them, just as did Florida voters overall.
Big turnout, smooth counting
Tuesday’s election at the county’s eight precincts ran about as well as an election can be conducted, prompting County Judge Van Russell, to remark at the elections’ office Tuesday night that it was the smoothest he had seen in his 24 years on the canvassing board.
Supervisor of Elections Ida Elliott, who was overseeing her first presidential election, had absentee and early voting results to state elections officials by 7:05 p.m., five minutes after the polls closed. Twenty minutes later, the entire results, of all but 17 provisional ballots, were submitted to the state. By 8:30 p.m., with all their pressing work finished, the three-person canvassing board, Elliott, Russell and County Commissioner Cheryl Sanders, together with deputy elections staffers Heather Riley and Carrie Johnson, had determined that 12 of the provisional ballots should be counted, and the election tally was completed.
“I can’t believe how fast those ballots got here,” said Elliott, praising the work of her 50-person crew of poll workers.
She said she was disappointed that turnout had been just 77 percent, a tad below the 79 percent turnout of four years ago. But once again, even with fewer days to do so than in 2008, more voters opted to vote early, or by absentee, than went to the polls Tuesday.
By the start of the counting after 7 p.m., 1,470 early votes had been cast, and 1,433 by absentee, a total of 2,903. This was nearly 300 more voters than the 2,618 who went to the polls Tuesday.
Elliott said she had received one complaint from a young voters that it had been noisy at the polling place, but that is to be expected on the most energetic election that Americans cast, with turnout well beyond with a typical off-year election.
One voter on St George Island at the United Methodist Church polling place may have left behind more than their political views when they went to vote on Tuesday. A pollworker reported that a watch had been found in the parking lot. If you believe it may be yours, please call Carlton at 927-2010.
Jackel bests Shiver
Both Jackel and Massey said they were relieved that the long political campaign had come to an end.
“I feel very fortunate to have survived the day. I’m very thankful to have this election concluded,” said Jackel. “It’s been a long battle. I feel like I was the best candidate for the job and feel in some ways vindicated by the folks in my district through all that I’ve been through.”
Early in the campaign, Jackel, a fulltime homesteaded resident of St. George Island, had been saddled with a finding by Property Appraiser Doris Pendleton that her husband in Georgia had filed for a homestead exemption back in that state. Jackel repaid the back taxes and penalties for the three years in question where there apparently had been dual homestead exemptions for the couple in both Georgia and Florida. Meggs later decided not to file misdemeanor charges against Jackel.
“In the end the constituents have spoken,” she said. “I think it’s a pretty clear message that they’ve approved of the job I’ve done the past four years, and all the comments and talk aside, they figured out I’m who they want to represent them and they’re happy with me.
“I’ve worked hard and I’ve taken a lot of pride the job I’ve done,” she said. “I’ve worked hard to do the best job I could.”
Jackel said she plans to push forward with such matters as getting the Eastpoint channel dredged, and bathrooms constructed on the fishing piers, but cautioned that “in the political process things take time.”
Jackel’s 944 votes, or 69 percent, to Shiver’s 421 votes, translated to sizeable winning margins in both Eastpoint and the island, and a nearly three-to-one win among absentee voters.
In reviewing the numbers, in which Jackel drew the same number of votes, 472, in both Eastpoint and the island, she pointed with satisfaction that she had done about as well on the mainland as she had on the island.
“I’m really thrilled to hear that,” Jackel said. “I hope that says both sides of the bridge feel like I’ve represented them well and fairly. I felt like both sides had not been equally represented, and I just wanted fair representation for both. There was a tendency for each side to feel the other was treated more fairly and that’s one of the things I wanted to do. Relations are as good as I’ve seen them.
“I appreciate their confidence and trust in me,” said Jackel, her voice hoarse from a bout of bronchitis she’s been fending off for the past 10 days. “I’m going to work hard and do the best I can for them. I’ll be available and help in any way I can as their commissioner.”
Massey beats Garrett
Democrat William Massey, 53, swamped his opponent, Hank Garrett, 48, by a better than three-to-one margin, collecting 789 votes, or 77 percent of the total, to Garrett’s 237 votes, or 23 percent.
Newcomer Massey, who defeated incumbent county commissioner Bevin Putnal in the August Democratic primary in his bid for a sixth term, outpolled Garrett among voters in Eastpoint and Carrabelle, as well as early and absentee voters. Garrett ran without party affiliation.
“I want to thank everyone in my district who voted for me, for all their support,” said Massey. “I’m truly humbled.
Known throughout Carrabelle as “Little William,” Massey said he spent the day standing at the polls, making sure his presence was known as voters throughout District 5 went to the polls.
“I’m happy,” he said. “It’s been a long road. I feel like they want me in there. “I feel like I’m going to do them a good job, just taking care of my district and the county.
Massey, who works as road supervisor for the Carrabelle street department, ran up his largest margin among Carrabelle voters at the senior center, who gave him a better than four-to-one margin over Garrett, 518-117.
It was tighter in Eastpoint, where Garrett works for Water Management Services. There, Massey tallied a two-to-one victory, 271 to 120. Among absentee voters, Massey had 157 votes to Garrett’s 42, and among early voters, a 244-75 margin.
Massey said he had been busy politicking up until a week ago, and was grateful to voters for giving him the victory.
“They care about taking care of the district, and I’ve been elected to serve the people,” he said. “A lot of people have called me and congratulated me for winning. I won't know what I’m going to do until I get there on Nov. 20th for the swearing in.”
Meanwhile, he added. “I’m going back to work tomorrow.”