LEESBURG, Ga. -- Lee County Commissioner Betty Johnson's stunning announcement that she does not plan to seek re-election after more than 40 years of service to the county adds another twist to the July 31 general primaries here that already were expected to have plenty.
Sitting Sheriff Reggie Rachals and incumbent Lee Commissioner Bill Williams have already drawn opposition, and challengers for commission seats held by Johnson and Vice Chairman Rick Muggridge are expected to emerge when qualifying starts Wednesday.
"We're expecting some heated local races, and that usually leads to a larger voter turnout," Lee Elections Supervisor Veronica Johnson said. "We certainly hope that's the case. We always try to stress to voters how important each vote is; there have been elections that were won or lost by one vote."
An abbreviated qualifying period runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday and from 9 a.m. until noon Friday. Johnson said the shortened qualifying period is a byproduct of the census-gathering process.
"The first even-numbered year following the release of census numbers, there is a shorter qualifying period," she said. "Qualifying is usually a week long, but (the shortened period) gives officials more time to finish redistricting and all that it involves.
"I don't think it's a real issue for (potential) candidates. Most who plan to run for office are aware of the qualifying requirements."
Retired Marine/defense contractor Greg Frich has announced plans to run against Williams for his District 5 seat, while Mary Egler has announced her intention to run in either Johnson's District 2 or Muggridge's District 4, depending on residency issues. Others are reportedly planning to run in both districts.
Former Lee Sheriff's Office deputy David Cheshire's campaign to unseat Rachals is already off and running, but there is no word yet of candidates to challenge Lee County School Board members Gregory Duke (District 2), Sylvia Vann (District 4) or William Griffin Jr. (District 5). Griffin has been rumored to be considering a run for County Commission.
Other incumbents whose offices will be listed on ballots during this election cycle are Clerk of Superior Court Sara Reeves, Tax Commissioner Susan Smith, Coroner Ronald Rowe, Probate Judge John Wheaton and Chief Magistrate James Thurman.
Local Republican and Democratic parties will conduct qualifying at the Kinchafoonee Room of the T. Page Tharp Governmental Building. Mike Sabot (contact number (229) 869-6802) will sign up Republican candidates, while Trish Batten (229-854-3374) will register Democrats.
Qualifying for nonpartisan offices will be conducted by the Elections and Registration Office (229-759-6002).
Qualifying fees are $1,779.86 for the sheriff's office; $1,491.65 for clerk of Superior Court, tax commissioner, Probate judge and chief Magistrate; $159.62 for county commissioner; $108 for coroner, and $19.50 for board of education seats.
Johnson said paper absentee ballots will be mailed out no later than June 15, and a Legislature-shortened in-person advance voting period would start July 9 and continue weekdays through July 27. Included in the advance voting period is a Saturday session July 21 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Deadline for registering to vote in the primaries is July 2.