By Ben Benton
PIKEVILLE, Tenn. —; A Republican Party official says the swell of turnout in the GOP May primary was because of dissatisfaction with the status quo at the sheriff’s department, but Democrats say personal attacks and a number of contested races spawned the shift of votes to the Republican primary.
“There was (some crossover voting). What you hear locally is there were about 200 Democrats who crossed over,” county Republican Chairman Reuben Watkins said. “I don’t call them ‘crossovers,’ I call them converts. That’s not true in every case, but I don’t think a lot of them are going to go back.
“There’s obvious mismanagement and rampant allegations of fraud and corruption” at the sheriff’s department, Mr. Watkins said. He gave no details.
Incumbent Sheriff Bob Swafford, a Democrat, vehemently denied Mr. Watkins’ statement.
“As far as ‘fraud and corruption,’ (Mr. Watkins) doesn’t even know anything about the jail,” Mr. Swafford said. “I’m going to run a clean race. If he’s got any problems with me, he needs to come talk to me about them. I’ve never known a party chairman to make comments like that.”
Election officials said 1,406 votes were cast in the sheriff’s Democratic primary and 1,897 in the Republican primary. Mr. Swafford, running in a four-person field, won his primary with 566 votes.
Republican Jimmy Morris, who also was among four candidates, won with 990 votes, records show.
But more Republicans voted in the primary for county mayor than for sheriff, officials said. In that contest, 2,051 Republicans cast ballots, choosing incumbent Gregg Ridley over challenger Tony Britt. Democrat Judy Swafford was unopposed in her primary.
Mr. Swafford said he’s not bothered by Republican turnout.
“I heard some rumors that some Democrats voted in the Republican primary” because of interest in the county mayor race, he said, “but I’m going to fight hard to win. I’m going to do what I always do and do the best job I can.”
Charles Ray Rains, county Democratic Party chairman, also discounted claims of “fraud and corruption” and said, “there’s no issue with mismanagement because (Sheriff Swafford has) been successful in his re-election campaign.”
The voter shift reflected the races, Mr. Rains said.
“The sheriff’s race was the only contested race in the Democratic primary. In the Republican primary, there were three contested races and some of the commissioners had contested races,” Mr. Rains said.
Mr. Morris said he was “tickled” with the turnout.
But Mr. Morris declined to say there were crossover votes because of interest in the race for county mayor, and he did not point to dissatisfaction in the current administration.
“I would just like to thank the people for their support in my effort to win my primary,” Mr. Morris said.
Administrator of Elections Susan Colvard said nearly 40 percent of the county’s 8,993 of registered voters cast ballots. That’s compared to turnout of less than 33 percent in the 2002 primary, she said.
E-mail Ben Benton at email@example.com