Nearly 60,000 Columbia County voters cast ballots during the Nov. 6 election. And quite a few of them cracked jokes.
While the election had a 74 percent turnout, slightly less than the 77 percent who voted in the county in the 2008 presidential election, many of the races on the ballot already had been decided in the July primary.
That’s because no Democrats signed up to challenge Republican incumbents in any of the local races, and because non-partisan races such as judgeships and school board seats now also are decided during the primary.
As a result, voters standing in front of the voting screens for the general election saw only a few real races, along with lots of candidates who faced no opposition.
That left plenty of room for mischief.
Columbia County’s absentee ballot report from the election spans 89 pages. While some voters chose to write in different names than those presented in contested races – 155 voters, for example, wrote in another name rather than vote for one of the three presidential candidates listed – most of the write-ins were in the uncontested races.
Leading the pack with the highest number of write-ins was Sheriff Clay Whittle, with 470. The incumbent was in no danger of being unseated by write-ins for Batman, Donald Duck and Lady Gaga, however, or from the 42 write-ins for some form of the name of Richmond County sheriff-elect Richard Roundtree. Whittle, a 17-year veteran sheriff, received 49,109 actual votes.
That also means nearly 9,000 voters just skipped the uncontested race, as they did with many on the ballot. While 58,997 voters cast ballots in the first race listed, the presidential race, just 55,267 stuck around to vote on the questions at the end of the ballot.
Though his district doesn’t span the entire county, as does Whittle’s, the second-highest number of write-ins, with 365, went to state Sen. Bill Jackson. Jackson easily won re-election in the 24th District with 37,548 votes, and write-ins for his seat include the names of fellow state senators Hardie Davis and Jesse Stone, along with the name of Stone’s actual opponent for the 23th District, Robert Ingham.
The list also includes write-ins for Homer Simpson, Emperor Palpatine and another for Lady Gaga, along with Mickey Mouse, Charlie Brown and Harry Potter.
Coming in third in the total number of Columbia County write-ins was another countywide, uncontested candidate, Probate Judge Alice Padgett. She received 48,500 actual votes, with more than 10,000 skipping the race and 309 writing in names such as Harry James, with four votes, even though he actually was elected as Richmond County’s probate judge, Carlton Vaughn, who lost to James in Richmond County’s race. Unsuccessful district attorney candidate Evita Paschall also received two write-in votes (one of them misspelled), while Columbia County Juvenile Court Judge Doug Flanagan received one.
Voters also wrote in the name of “Wade Paggit,” a misspelling of the name of Padgett’s husband – Superior Court Judge Wade Padgett. He tied with Charles Darwin and Lady Gaga with one vote each.