With change still possible, 8 votes apparently decided Catoosa County commission race

With change still possible, 8 votes apparently decided Catoosa County commission race

May 24th, 2018 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

Chuck Harris, a candidate for District 2 commissioner, speaks during a forum hosted by the Catoosa County Republican Party at the Boynton Voting Precinct on April 10.

Photo by C.B. Schmelter

The midday sun beating, Chuck Harris sat in an oval swath of grass 150 feet from the Boynton voting precinct Tuesday, propping up his campaign sign. A small, middle-aged man parked his car facing Harris and walked a few steps toward him. He asked Harris why he was running for the Catoosa County Commission.

Harris, who sells motorized wheelchairs for a living, told the man he thought the commissioners could do a better job planning for growth — studying traffic patterns, expanding roads, that sort of thing. He also thought they needed tighter fiscal management; he's still upset about the $6.2 million payment the county had to make to Erlanger Health System because of a 2011 contract.

Catoosa County Commissioner Bobby Winters is seen during a Catoosa County Commission meeting on April 4, 2017, in Ringgold, Ga.

Catoosa County Commissioner Bobby Winters is seen during...

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

The man asked him about his family. Harris said he's been married for 41 years. He grew up in the county's Westside community.

His three sons graduated from high school there.

He said the man shook his hand, promised to vote for him against Bobby Winters, who has been on the commission since 2002, the longest active elected official in the county's government. Around 6:30 p.m., Harris said, a woman approached in the same swath of grass. She said she was the man's daughter. He had come home and told the rest of the family to back Harris. They arrived 30 minutes before polls closed. One vote turned into five.

That interaction alone may not have singlehandedly swung the election — but it's close.

Harris defeated Winters on Tuesday, 458-450, according to unofficial results.

"All the little things that people did to help me were important things," he said. "Every time someone shared something on Facebook, every time someone posted a yard sign, every time someone made a phone call — those were important things. I didn't do it myself. I didn't win. A lot of people won."

The results, however, are not set in stone.

Catoosa County Election Board Chairman Rickey Kittle said they still may need to count 12 provisional ballots. These are votes cast by people who ran into problems at the polls. They may have forgotten a valid ID, the voter rolls may have inaccurately shown that they were not registered, or they may have reported to the wrong precinct.

Those voters need to show the election board proof that they were, in fact, allowed to vote by Friday. If they do, the board will count their ballots. But even so, the odds of swinging the election are slim.

First, the voters have to be from District 2, the northwestern part of the county where Winters is the current commissioner. Second, those voters had to have shown up to a precinct within that district. Some of the votes are provisional right now because the people showed up to the wrong precinct.

Only the ballots inside District 2 had the Harris and Winters race printed on them. So if you were a voter who mistakenly tried to cast a ballot in the wrong zone, you may have also been outside of District 2 — meaning you didn't even get a chance to cast a ballot in this fight.

Confusing? Well, Kittle said, Winters would then have to hope all the stars aligned perfectly for him. Of the 12 provisional ballots, at least eight would need to be within District 2 to make an impact. And on top of that, they would have to all be for Winters instead of Harris. It's a thin needle to thread.

"I don't foresee a change," Kittle said. "But it could be. There's always a possibility."

There is another possibility for Winters: He could demand a recount. On Friday, the county election board will finalize the vote total, meaning it will compile the provisional ballots and make sure all the votes add up. It then will give the documents to the Georgia State Patrol's Dalton office, and troopers will drive the documents down to Atlanta.

There, members of the secretary of state's office will review the totals. If everything adds up, they certify the results. Once they do that, a candidate has two days to demand a recount. Winters, who did not return multiple calls seeking comment Wednesday, probably will have until midway through next week to decide whether to pursue that path.

Either way, Harris is not worried.

"If there was a mistake," he said, "it very well may be a mistake in my favor. Let's say there are 20 votes changed. It could be 20 more votes for me."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.


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