It’s been a soggy brown winter in Dade County but already the first signs of spring are cropping up along the roadways—Vote For Me signs, that is. A.D. 2016 is an election year not just in the wider world outside but here in this rural microcosm, too, where politics can be just as intense as anything on the national front. This year, Dade’s county executive and sheriff are both up for reelection. Also to be elected in 2016 are a tax commissioner, probate judge, magistrate judge, court clerk, coroner, two county district commissioners and three school board members.
Board of elections officials reported last week that early voting had been tepid for the year’s first voting, the presidential preference primary to be held March 1. The only local issue on that ballot, however, is one for continuation of the county’s ESPLOST, the educational special purpose local option sales tax, which benefits the schools. This must be renewed every five years and historically, Dade votes pretty faithfully to do so. But if prior years’ experience is anything to go by, voting should be heavier and politicking hotter for the local offices, particularly the more responsible and better-paid ones, such as sheriff and court clerk. How much so remains to be seen, as qualifying for those local offices is not until the week of March 7-11.
Qualifying for local offices involves completing paperwork at the board of elections and paying a state-mandated fee of 3 percent of the position’s minimum salary. Those are: $1,965 for the full-time county executive; $120 for the other, part-time county commissioners; $1616.40 for sheriff; $1392.25 for tax commissioner, court clerk, probate judge and magistrate judge; $88.21 for coroner; and $18 for school board members. Holders of all these offices serve four-year terms, but county commission and school board seats are staggered at two-year intervals. That means that in 2016, district 3 (Trenton-Rising Fawn) and 4 (Lookout Mountain) are up for grabs on both boards, as well as the at-large seat on the school board, analogous in the county commission to the board chairman/county executive seat currently held by Ted Rumley. Dade citizens will have their first chance to vote on local candidates in the May 24 primary election. They must be registered to vote for that by April 26. Early voting begins May 2. The runoff election date for the primary is July 26. A runoff is usually required in local primaries because to avoid it, one candidate must take 50 percent of the votes plus one, a tall order when there are five or six hopefuls. The general election is on Nov. 8, in tandem with the presidential election, with a registration deadline of Oct. 11 and early voting beginning Oct. 17,Local candidacy is not official until qualification begins on March 7, but the earliest bloomer of this spring’s crop of candidates is Danny Ellis,who has announced his campaign forsheriff via star-spangled signs all over the county. Ellis, a longtime Dade County Sheriff’s Department deputy under both incumbent Sheriff Ray Cross and his predecessor, Patrick Cannon, was reported by the department to be still employed there but currently on leave.