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Area elections in hands of voters

LEESBURG -- Based on some startlingly low advance voting totals, most area municipal elections have failed to generate a whole lot of interest among their rspective electorates.

That's not the case in Camilla, however, which has seen more than 600 of the just under 3,000 active voters in its northern and southern districts cast ballots in three contested races.

"A lot of it has to do with the convenience of getting out and voting early, but we've got some pretty heated races this election cycle," Camilla Elections Superintendent Mark Shiver said Monday. "We opted to allow early voting throughout the month of October, so we've been able to get a very good early turnout.

"Of course, this has not been one of those elections where the incumbents could just sit back and relax. Everyone's campaigning hard."

The Mitchell County seat's totals are even more impressive when compared to numbers in Dougherty County, where the one contested Albany City Commission race drew only 48 early voters and requests for 25 absentee ballots.

"There just hasn't been a great deal of interest shown by the voters in Ward 3," Elections Administrative Assistant Sharon Armbrust said on the eve of the city race that pits political veteran Arthur Williams against Christopher Pike. "Maybe this means we're going to have a busy election day."

Albany's Ward 3 has 5,662 active registered voters, Armbrust said.

The early voting numbers are not much better in Lee County, where Elections Supervisor Veronica Johnson said a contested Leesburg City Council showdown has attracted 20 advance voters and four mail-in ballots, while a Council race in Smithville drew no advance voters and one mail-in ballot that so far has not been returned.

Johnson said Leesburg has 1,477 active registered voters eligible to cast ballots in the nonpartisan city election that pits incumbent Richard Bush against first-time candidate Jeff Sexton, while Smithville has 104 registered voters who can vote for either incumbent Vincent Cutts or political newcomer Dedra Blackshear in that community's Ward 3 race.

"The uncontested Ward 4 race will also be on the ballot in Smithville, and there are 70 voters in that ward," said Johnson, who noted that all Leesburg and Smithville voters will cast ballots at the EMS/fire station precincts in both communities.

Sexton said his first campaign has been a positive experience.

"I've gotten a very good reception from the people of Leesburg, and I've had a number of people come up and tell me they share the same values that I have," he said Monday. "I think the thing that has had the most impact for me during this campaign is the concept of service leadership, which I have been studying all my life.

"The way I operate, my concern is solely on the people first; I have no ambitions of my own. I have had so many people tell me, 'You're saying the things we've been thinking for years.' This has been a rewarding experience and, win or lose, I will continue to do the things I've been doing to promote transparency in our government."

In Camilla, each City Council incumbent up for re-election has drawn competition for today's vote. In District 2, Post 3, Lewis Campbell Jr. is being challenged by Walter Anderson; in District 1, Post 3, Philip Kelson has drawn the challenge of both Oscar Maples and Vivian Smith; while District 1, Post 2 incumbent Zelda Collier is being challenged by Annie Doris Willingham.

Elections Superintendent Shiver, who is in his 12th year at that post, said District 1, which drew 140 early voters, has 1,121 active voters, while District 2, which had just under 500 voters cast early ballots, has 1,811 active registered voters.

In Sylvester, which drew 307 early and absentee voters from its pool of 2,899 registered in the city, a mayoral challenge and contested Ward 3 and 4 races are expected to spark a great deal of interest.

Incumbent Mayor Bill Yearta, who is in his eighth year at the post, is being challenged by Ronnie Hill, whom Yearta defeated four years ago. Ward 4 incumbent Larry "L.J." Johnson is being challenged by Johnny Blake and Johnny Jefferson; while Terry Giddens, Charles Jones and Jimmy Hudson are vying to claim the Ward 3 seat Tommy Snipes vacated when he moved out of the ward.

"I am concerned about Sylvester and Worth County because we, like Albany, are one of the poorest cities in the U.S.," Hudson, a retired Marine and the former EMS director for Georgia Baptist EMS, Lifeflight and Phoebe-Worth EMS, said in a recent e-mail. "I have lived in Worth County most of my life and have been involved in the community for years."

Dawson Elections Supervisor Sherry Howard said 45 early voters had cast ballots for the Ward 2 City Council race between incumbent George Wilson and newcomer Monica Johnson. Howard said there are 363 active voters in the ward.

Polls open today at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. in all area municipal elections.