Virus having impact on local campaigns

Published 6:15 pm Tuesday, April 7, 2020

The COVID-19 virus has interrupted the everyday lives of many Troup County residents throughout the past month, including those candidates who have chosen to run for office.

As of Tuesday, the Georgia primary election is still scheduled to take place on May 19, and there are 30 candidates on the ballot vying for local offices throughout Troup County.

Several other federal and statewide elections are also scheduled to happen on May 19.

While the primary election seems to be moving forward uninterrupted at the moment, the way candidates are campaigning has changed. The days of shaking hands and walking the neighborhoods to knock on voter’s doors is strongly discouraged by the Center for Disease Control.

The Troup County School System Board of Education has four contested races in May, which are non-partisan. The winner of the elections in May will be the school board members.

In District 5, incumbent school board member Cathy Hunt is taking on retired educator Tommy Callaway, who is also part of the Tax Relief and Comprehensive Education Reform group.

Hunt said that when she ran four years ago, there were candidate forums hosted by public groups and trying to introduce herself to as many people as possible.

“Because of the physical distancing required right now, we have to decide how to best use social media, campaign signs and possibly snail mail and print advertising to share our messages,” she said. “With most local candidates not having a fortune to spend on such things, it’s frustrating not to be able to make contact socially. But we have to do the right thing to keep our community safe.”

Callaway said the virus had put a strain on conventional campaigning when it comes to knocking on doors. However, he’s enlisted the help of his grandson to put campaign door hangers on doors, so there’s no physical interaction. 

“I have established a new Facebook campaign page, ‘Callaway for District 5 School Board 2020,’ as a means to promote my platform via social media instead of having forums or attempting to do so in person,” he said. “I will be investigating mailers, radio ads, and newspaper ads. I am also relying on word of mouth to help spread my message.”

Another heavily-contested race is for Troup County Sheriff.

Republican incumbent Sheriff James Woodruff will take on Jeremy Bolt, who is in law enforcement in another county and owns a local lawn care business.

The winner of the primary will face Democratic challenger Ricky Ward in November.

Woodruff said his campaign is still using social media to tell people about their message. However, his main concern has been dealing with the COVID-19 virus at hand.

“We do have people putting up signs, but we’ve got to keep our people safe first and foremost,” he said. “We are doing the best we can. I hope people see that I’ve been trying to do a good job of the last eight years and take that into consideration.”

Bolt has also taken the social media approach by having Facebook Live sessions with potential voters.

“Being able to interact with people and having concerns, and letting them tell me what they would like to see has been very valuable,” he said. “It has had to take the place of that door-to-door or neighborhood-to-neighborhood interaction.”

Bolt said he also makes about 15 to 20 phone calls a day and sends out about 100 emails each day to share his message.

Ward said he’d been focused on getting his signs and banners up to communicate to the public he is running for sheriff. However, he’s not shaking hands when he sees people in public. Instead, he has a postcard ready with his campaign information on it to hand out.

“I would love to go door-to-door, go inside the home, and sit down and let people know what I stand for and what I hope to accomplish,” Ward said. 

Since that’s not an option right now, he said he’ll lean on social media and regular mailings for now. 

Local election officials have been encouraging voters to use absentee voting to limit the number of people showing up the polls during the COVID-19 crisis. 

Georgia announced on March 24 that all active voters would be mailed absentee ballot request forms for the May 19 primary, in hopes to reduce the number of people at the polls.

“They are encouraging this with the virus going on to vote by absentee ballot,” Troup County Election Supervisor Andrew Harper said. “Especially for the seniors and the people who are at high risk. They want to get ahead of the game.”

On April 1, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said he doesn’t have the power to delay or move an election, and it was still on course for May 19. 

“I execute elections. I don’t create them. If the leadership of the General Assembly and the governor wants to hold the election on May 19, we will support them and do our best to make it happen efficiently, safely and accurately,” Raffensperger said in a statement from his office. “If the General Assembly and the governor wants to move the election to June or July, we will support them in that too.”