May 2024 ElectionNewsNews Features

Flagpole’s Voter Guide to the May 21 Elections

Credit: Jennifer Denson

Elections for nonpartisan local offices, and partisan primaries for some local, state and federal offices, will take place Tuesday, May 21. For many of these races, the outcome will be decisive, so don’t wait until November to make your voice heard. This is a summary of each race in a nutshell to help voters decide. Click here for more comprehensive coverage.

Nonpartisan Races

Commission District 2: Incumbent Melissa Link—who returned to the commission in a 2023 special election after Republican state legislators drew her out of her previous district—is facing a surprisingly strong challenge from business owner Jason Jacobs, a former UGA and minor league baseball player. Link has been a progressive stalwart as an activist and elected official since the 1990s, known for her scorched-earth rhetoric. That can be a plus if you believe she speaks truth to power, or a minus if you believe she puts her foot in her mouth more often than not. Link has some NIMBY tendencies on housing, and Jacobs is running to her left on that issue, but his primary concern is that providing resources for the homeless like a low-barrier shelter will merely draw more unhoused people to Athens. In a district that includes liberal neighborhoods like Boulevard and Normaltown, Link’s endorsement by the ACC Democratic Committee could prove decisive. 

Commission District 6: With incumbent Jesse Houle stepping down, restaurateur Rashe Malcolm and former ACC auditor Stephanie Johnson are seeking the Westside seat. Neither has put forward many concrete policy proposals; in general terms, Malcolm’s platform includes economic development and safe transportation options, while Johnson (whose husband is a police officer) is running on support for law enforcement, government transparency and fiscal responsibility. Johnson is facing renewed scrutiny of her performance as internal auditor—a job the mayor and commission fired her from three years ago—and subsequent lawsuit against the ACC government, which the two sides recently settled. Besides her business experience, Malcolm serves on the Georgia Square Mall redevelopment board and the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors. Malcolm has been endorsed by the ACC Democratic Committee, which declined to endorse Johnson due to her ties to Republicans.

Commission District 8: Incumbent Carol Myers is seeking a second term representing the Eastside. A wonky, center-left type, she is a strong supporter of walking and biking infrastructure, clean energy and new amenities for the Eastside like a library and youth center. Opponent Sidney Waters decided to run at the last minute, inspired by the murder of Laken Riley, allegedly at the hands of an undocumented immigrant. She announced her candidacy on Fox News, decrying ACC’s “sanctuary-type” policies. Myers was not on the commission in 2019 when the body passed a nonbinding resolution welcoming immigrants to the community, but says she would have signed onto it. Waters has also been critical of efforts to help the homeless and high-rise developments she claims are pushing out longtime residents. The ACCDC endorsed Myers. 

School Board District 2: When Kirrena Gallagher stepped down from the Board of Education to run against Link in the aforementioned special election, the BOE chose Claudia Butts to serve out the rest of her term. Butts is now running for a full term, while Gallagher wants her seat back. Also in the running is Mary Bagby, who has applied for and run for the seat several times. (It’s seen quite a bit of turnover in the past few years.) The ACCDC endorsed Gallagher, while Butts narrowly missed the cut.

Georgia Supreme Court: Pledging to protect women’s reproductive and health-care rights, former Athens congressman John Barrow is challenging Justice Andrew Pinson. The race is technically nonpartisan, but Barrow is a Democrat and Pinson is an appointee of Gov. Brian Kemp who is backed by anti-abortion groups.

Democratic Primary

10th Congressional District: There is little to separate Lexy Doherty and Jessica Fore from a policy standpoint—both are running on fairly standard Democratic platforms of protecting voting and reproductive rights, expanding health care and raising the minimum wage. With her deep ties to the Methodist church, Fore makes the case that she knows how to communicate with conservative evangelicals. However, that did not appeal to a majority of voters when she lost the 2022 primary to Tabitha Johnson-Green, who is not running this year. Meanwhile, Doherty has a fundraising edge, and she enjoys endorsements from the AFL-CIO labor union and ACC commissioners Dexter Fisher and Carol Myers. In reality, either one would be an extreme longshot against Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Collins in this deep-red district.

Sheriff: During his first term after unseating incumbent Ira Edwards in 2020, Sheriff John Q. Williams has focused on reducing the pay gap between deputies and police, along with establishing mental health and community outreach programs. The former police detective is facing Tommy Dorsey, once a deputy under Edwards and currently a Clarke County School District officer. Dorsey says he’s running because morale among jail staffers is low—a longstanding problem—but he has also made some odd statements, like saying that he would seek to dismantle the ACC Police Department and make the sheriff’s office the “primary” law enforcement agency in the county. There is no Republican candidate in November, although the local GOP is unofficially backing Dorsey.

Tax Commissioner: For a position that tends to be handed down by the previous office-holder to a chosen successor, JP Lemay has a huge advantage in an endorsement from current Tax Commissioner Toni Meadow. Lemay, a planner for the ACC Leisure Services Department, says he learned the ropes as an IT specialist assigned to the offices of the tax commissioner and tax assessor. He wants to update software for the tax commissioner’s office and play a role in the construction of a new courthouse. Brant Spratlin is an Athens native and insurance agent who describes himself as an independent and says he wants to improve customer service. There is no Republican candidate in November.

Coroner: Both Michael Eberhart and William Gaulden are veterans of the funeral business. Both want to expand the office of coroner to match Athens’ growing population. Eberhart has more experience, while Gaulden argues that because he’s younger, he can serve for longer in an office that’s rarely contested unless an incumbent steps down, as Sonny Wilson did. There is no Republican candidate.

House District 124: Melanie Miller, a paralegal from Greensboro, is running against Rickie Glenn for the right to face state Rep. Trey Rhodes (R-Greensboro) in November. Since Miller is running an active campaign and Glenn does not appear to be campaigning at all, this seems like a no-brainer.

Republican Primary

House District 121: State Rep. Marcus Wiedower (R-Athens) often lets his colleague Houston Gaines do the talking, but Wiedower has amassed quite a bit of power in the Georgia House during his three terms in office, rising to chairman of a House Appropriations subcommittee. His opponent, nurse practitioner John Michael Grigsby, is running on a platform of better health care, term limits and cybersecurity.

Senate District 46: Businessman and Marine gunnery Sgt. Ross Harvin is challenging state Sen. Frank Ginn (R-Danielsville) for a second time. While Ginn won a three-way primary in 2022 with 66% of the vote, Harvin is picking up some endorsements from local officials in Jackson and Madison counties this time around. Ginn—the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee—is facing allegations that he profited by selling steel beams that a bridge contractor gave him for free.

Party Questions

These are nonbinding—just a way for party leaders to gauge the opinions of the rank-and-file on certain issues. Answer however you’d like, or don’t answer at all.

How and Where to Vote

Early voting runs through Friday, May 17 at six sites: the ACC Board of Elections office, Miriam Moore Community Center, Athens Regional Library, ACC Cooperative Extension Office, ACC Tennis Center and Winterville Cultural Center. For more information, click here.

On Election Day, May 21, vote at your assigned precinct. Precinct lines and some polling places have changed, so double-check your latest voter registration card (mailed in February) or go to the Georgia secretary of state’s My Voter Page to find your polling location. That site also allows voters to view a personalized sample ballot.

All voters will receive a nonpartisan ballot, but voters must choose between voting in the Democratic or Republican primary. Voters can also choose neither and just vote on nonpartisan races.