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Belin, Farrell, Harrison win; runoff for school board

By Tim Croft
The Star

County voters filled two seats and Sheriff Mike Harrison fended off a Republican challenger during Tuesday’s primary election. 

The margins were, to say the least, far from uniform. 

Harrison, taking 70 percent of the vote, 1,957 votes, in the Republican primary, eased past a challenge from Rhett Butler, who garnered 847 votes. 

And Cindy Belin, the current chair of the Gulf County School Board, took 80 percent of the vote, 695 votes, in her race against former county commissioner Carl Fox, who secured 185 votes. 

That was the highest percentage of the vote in any local race. 

As a non-partisan two-person race, the primary and general election become one and the same. 

On the flip side were the race for the District 3 seat on the Board of County Commissioners and the District 4 school board seat. 

Patrick Farrell slipped past Joan Lovelace in the District 3 BOCC race, winning by 17 votes. 51-49 percent; voting was 419-402. 

Farrell and Lovelace, both political newcomers, were each running as a Republican, making it a universal primary open to all eligible voters in District 3 and the final decision for the seat. 

And as expected, none of the five candidates for the non-partisan school board seat in District 4 reached the required 50 percent-plus-one to win and avoid a runoff. 

Marvin Davis and Deborah Crosby will face off each other on the November ballot. 

Davis took 33 percent of the voter, 187 votes, and Crosby 166 votes, or 29 percent. 

“We will have one local race on what will be a very crowded ballot in November,” said Supervisor of Elections John Hanlon.  

Among the other three candidates, Charles Gathers also reached triple digits, with 107 votes or 19 percent, while Tom Buttram finished with 58 votes (10 percent) and Amy Rogers 54 (9 percent). 

Those were not the only races on some primary ballots. 

Republicans also chose a local State Committeeman with Port St. Joe Commissioner David Ashbrook easily defeating Tom Semmes of Wewahitchka, 72 percent (1,914 votes) to 28 percent (750 votes). 

In the race to succeed Glenn Hess as State Attorney, Larry Basford won with 77 percent of the vote, or 3,064 votes, by far the highest total in Gulf County Tuesday night. 

Basford’s opponent was Wes Hatcher, who won 23 percent, or 898 votes, in what was also a universal primary. 

Marva Harris Preston easily won the county vote in the GOP primary to replace retiring State Sen. Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee). 

Preston won 79 percent of the local vote (1,975 votes, the second-highest local total of the night). 

Voting turned was strong considering circumstances, Hanlon said.  

“I thought it went very smooth,” Hanlon said. “And we reached 40 percent which is better than the 2016 or the 2018 primaries when there were more races on the ballot. 

“Do I wish it was 100 percent? Of course, but we hit 40 percent (turnout) and given COVID and everything, that was pretty good.” 

In 2018, just prior to Hurricane Michael, turnout was 31.9 for the primary.  

In 2016, which Hanlon said was more reflective of this year’s ballot in terms of local races, turnout was 34 percent.  

More than three in four of votes this year were cast prior to Election Day. 

In all, 1,109 voted by mail and 2,164 cast ballots during the early voting period. 

“I think the directly correlates with COVID,” Hanlon said. “Some people wanted to just stay home and vote. During early voting, people know that is staggered and they can come anytime.” 

Tuesday’s turnout at the two “super centers” of Hanlon’s office and the Wewahitchka Public Library was 881 for a 4,154 total out of just over 10,000 eligible voters.