Every polling spot in Whitfield and Murray counties is open today.
In Gordon County:
- Pine Chapel
In Pickens County:
- Talking Rock
Georgia's last state Senate seat will be filled tonight. Or at least, the field for that seat will shrink.
Polls for the special election are open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. as five candidates try to replace Charlie Bethel, a six-year veteran whom Gov. Nathan Deal appointed to the state's court of appeals last month. The position covers Whitfield and Murray counties and parts of Pickens and Gordon counties.
In Georgia, the seat holder has to earn more than 50 percent of the vote to win. And with a crowded list of contenders today, there's a chance the two most popular candidates will have to face each other in a runoff on Jan. 10, a day after the Senate session begins.
The candidates for the seat are:
* Conda Lowery Goodson, an active community volunteer
* Chuck Payne, a retired juvenile court probation officer
* Debby Peppers, an attorney and former county commissioner
* Shell Underwood, an insurance counselor and former teacher
* William Vinyard, a contractor
The race is nonpartisan, but four of the candidates signed up as Republicans. Peppers registered as an Independent candidate. She and Payne were the two most politically active candidates prior to this week's race.
Payne, a member of the local Republican Party since 1991, was the group's chairman from 1998-2005 and again from 2013-15. He stepped down the second time to volunteer for Ben Carson's presidential campaign.
He also retired at the end of October after 28 years as a probation officer for the Murray County juvenile court system. He believes his experience can help shape policies about criminal justice at the State Capitol.
"There is still some work that needs to be done there," he told the Times Free Press last month. "I will be a very sound voice to that discussion, bringing a real-life understanding of what works and what doesn't work."
Peppers, meanwhile, was a Whitfield County commissioner from 1993-96 and now sits on the county's zoning board. In the 1990s, she famously represented a group of residents in a lawsuit against the Dalton Regional Youth Detention Center, arguing it provided inadequate education, psychological therapy and medical care.
She won the case in 1999, when a federal judge suggested the state government settle. The victory earned attention from People magazine and the New York Times, while the American Bar Association gave Peppers a juvenile justice award.
Peppers is the most liberal candidate in a staunchly conservative region. During a candidate forum, she was the only one who argued against cutting property taxes while boosting sales tax, telling the audience the maneuver would disproportionately tax the poor. She also said she would not support legislation banning abortion in Georgia, arguing it would lead to a costly lawsuit in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Goodson, meanwhile, unsuccessfully ran against Bethel in the Republican primary in May, taking 25 percent of the vote. She said she knocked on thousands of doors during that race and has built strong connections with residents. She wants to eliminate fees for gun carry permits, as well as some taxes and regulations on small businesses.
Vinyard has campaigned as a strong advocate of conservative principles.
Underwood, a former middle and high school teacher, now works for Modern Woodmen. She believes she can help reshape the state's education policies. In particular, she wants to prevent testing companies from shaping what is taught in class. She also is a critic of the Common Core standards, saying the federal policy doesn't emphasize the correct answers so much as how a student reaches those answers. She believes that is unfair.
"I see the frustration in my children's eyes," Underwood said last month. "I see the frustration in the teachers' eyes. I see teachers that are the best teachers we've ever had. They're throwing their hands up and quitting."
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.