Now that final numbers are in, it’s apparent the Glynn County Commission will look noticeably different come January.
Commissioners Bob Coleman and Mike Browning, who currently hold the At-large Post 2 and District 1 seats respectively, were defeated by challengers from their own party during the Tuesday primaries. Current District 2 Commissioner Peter Murphy decided against running for reelection this year, a seat won Tuesday by former Glynn County Commissioner Cap Fendig. Fendig will face Democrat Julian Smith in November.
That puts three of the commission’s seven seats in the hands of newcomers.
Sammy Tostensen, Browning’s Republican challenger for the District 1 seat, said he felt a “undercurrent” of dissatisfaction during his campaign among the public and other candidates, especially on social media.
“You could see it on Facebook,” Tostensen said. “Whether it was (District 2 candidates) Cap Fendig or Mike Haugen, or (At-large Post 2 candidates) Bo Clark or Walter Rafolski, they were not pleased with the direction the county government seemed to be taking them in.”
Rafolski, a Republican heading to a runoff with Bo Clark for the At-large Post 2 seat, said the problems each candidate sees in the community are largely the same.
“We’ve just got to find the right solutions,” Rafolski said.
The public may not have believed incumbents had those solutions, he said.
Taylor Ritz, who defeated Fred Griffith in the contest for the Democratic nomination for the At-large Post 2 race, said she wasn’t surprised to see incumbents lose their seats, citing personal and job-related issues that may have caused voters to turn to new blood.
“There’s just been a lot of disconnect between the commission and constituents,” Ritz said.
The procedure to speak publicly at meetings is more difficult than it needs to be, she said, and the county doesn’t have many town hall meetings or other events where the public can speak openly with commissioners.
While Ritz said she doesn’t believe these concerns are new, they’ve likely been exacerbated by recent events like the killing of Ahmaud Arbery and recent scandals involving the Glynn County Police Department.
Browning, the current chairman of the commission, said he believes citizens may be frustrated at various issues, particularly the COVID-19 pandemic and impact it has had on the economy, and are taking it out on incumbents.
“I’d like to tell anyone who wants to run for office in Glynn County, it’s going to take a lot of your time,” Browning said. “You’ve got to have a true, strong commitment to do your job right and go to a ton of meetings. You will take a lot of calls and text messages. There’s a lot going on in this community.”
He added that he has no regrets and enjoyed his time in office, where he will remain through December.
State-level elected positions saw a similar trend, with incumbent state Rep. Jeff Jones, R-St. Simons Island, losing to in-party opponent Buddy DeLoach.
State Rep. Don Hogan, R-St. Simons Island, had no primary competition but will face Democrat Julie Jordan in the November general election.
In the state Senate District 3 race, a post opening with Sen. William Ligon’s decision to leave office at the end of his current term, neither Sheila McNeill nor David Sharpe accrued 50 percent of the ballots, which sends the race to a runoff on Aug. 11.
Chris Channell, Glynn County elections and registration supervisor, said the numbers told a tale of an election driven by local races and no small amount of new voters.
“When we process the absentee (ballots) we have a voting history that pops up, and there were a lot of first-time entries,” Channell said. “The stuff that drove this was mostly local elections. That’s what’s really amazing, that it was a local election more than anything.
“The high mark for a primary was the 2016 (presidential preference primary), and that’s because you had a competitive Republican and Democratic race.
There was motivation on the federal level that drove turnout.
“In this election, you only really had the Democrat (presidential primary), but it was kind of decided before voters were able to speak up, so this wasn’t really driven by the presidential election.”
Tuesday’s primary continued to follow a trend that started in 2016 and continued in 2018 of higher and higher registration and turnout, not just among Glynn County voters but statewide as well.
Registration in Glynn County is very high, Channell said, around 63,000 in a county of roughly 85,000 — an estimate given in 2019 by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Of the 63,000 registered voters, 59,000 are active, 9,054 cast their ballots by mail and 18,714 voted during the primaries.
The numbers are subject to change as provisional ballots are verified and a few absentee votes with missing, inconsistent or incorrect information are adjudicated by the Glynn County Board of Elections.
By comparison, 10,417 voted in the 2018 primary, 147 by mail, and 10,026 voted in 2016, 319 by absentee.
“I don’t know if it’s people really excited about the opportunity to vote, being able to get outside after being cooped up for COVID over a couple of months, I don’t know what it was,” Channell said.
A heavy push by the state during the COVID-19 outbreak to get voters to mail in their ballots also contributed, he said.
The remaining candidates will either square off in the Aug. 11 runoff or Nov. 3 general election.