Incumbent John Darr and challenger Donna Tompkins will face off in a Dec. 6 runoff for Muscogee sheriff.
Unofficial results Wednesday morning had Tompkins leading with 29,686 votes to Darr’s 21,517, or 44 percent to 32 percent.
Republican Mark LaJoye got 13,582, or 20 percent, and the write-in votes presumably credited to Pam Brown totaled 2,294, or 3 percent.
To avoid a runoff, the leading candidate has to have more than 50 percent of all ballots cast.
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Darr could not immediately be reached for comment.
Asked Tuesday night whether she felt a runoff was likely, Tompkins said, “I honestly don’t know.”
She was hopeful because of her lead, she said: “I’m certainly encouraged by the number of votes I’ve got so far.”
But another odd turn in this election would not be uncommon, she said.
“Hey, that’s the rollercoaster of this whole election,” she remarked.
The long road
It was a long, twisted road to the finish line for sheriff’s candidates following a path that wound through meeting rooms and courtrooms to the ballot box.
At one point the county elections board had disqualified all the candidates except Darr, starting with two Democrats it kicked off the ballot March 30 for missing a deadline to submit fingerprints for a criminal background check.
Those candidates, Brown and Robert Keith Smith, appealed to Superior Court. A judge upheld the board’s decision April 21.
Then on May 2, the board disqualified Tompkins, the remaining Democrat, and LaJoye for missing a deadline to submit an affidavit swearing they graduated high school. That left only Darr, who ran as an independent.
Then Tompkins and LaJoye appealed to Superior Court.
“At this point, y’all are having a sheriff’s election without any candidates?” the judge hearing the appeal asked during a hearing May 16.
In two decisions delivered May 19 and 20, he overruled the board, and Tompkins and LaJoye remained on the ballot. Brown and Smith did not.
Smith dropped out. After considering an independent run, Brown opted for a write-in campaign.
So going into Tuesday night, that’s how the race was set: Darr, the incumbent; against LaJoye, the Republican; Tompkins, the Democrat; and Brown, the write-in.
And it was a long night, after a big turnout not only of early voters but of those casting ballots on Election Day, plus the need to examine write-ins to determine voter intent, were it not obvious.
When early voting ended at 7 p.m. Friday, Columbus had 32,733, more than the 32,012 in 2008, but fewer than 34,123 in 2012.
A big turnout
Despite the heavy early vote, several of Columbus’ neighborhood precincts still were swamped Tuesday. Here are some examples:
• St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, 4980 Hancock Road, has 6,011 active voters, and 2,588 voted early. On Election Day, 2,071 more voted in the sheriff’s race.
• With 5,221 active voters, the precinct at St. Mark United Methodist Church, 6795 Whitesville Road, had 2,382 early votes. It recorded 1,804 votes for sheriff on Tuesday.
• At North Highland Assembly of God, 7300 Whittlesey Blvd., 1,741 voted early, and 1,476 more voted in the sheriff’s race on Election Day. That precinct has 4,226 active voters.