MOUNT VERNON – In a delayed election conducted primarily by mail, 25.64% of Knox County voters made their voices heard Tuesday through absentee ballots. Voter turnout was slightly higher than the 21.57% in the 2018 primary election.
Originally slated for March 17, Gov. Mike DeWine postponed Ohio's primary election until April 28 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the stay-at-home order in effect, there was no in-person voting. Voters had to request an absentee ballot and vote by mail.
Locally, there were no contested races on the Democratic side. Contested Republican races included two commissioner seats and the positions of sheriff and juvenile/probate judge.
In the Knox County Sheriff's race, incumbent Sheriff David Shaffer edged out Danville Police Chief Dan Weckesser. Shaffer garnered 58.53% (4,222) of the vote; Weckesser collected 41.47% (2,991).
The race could become tighter once the Board of Elections tallies provisional and absentee ballots. According to Kim Horn, BOE director, there are potentially 182 provisional and 1,083 absentee ballots yet to count.
May 8 is the last day for absentee ballots to be received at the BOE. Horn said the BOE will certify election results on May 15.
Noting that this election was “challenging” with mail-in voting and other things going on related to COVID-19 and the shutdown, Shaffer said he is looking forward to another term.
“I want to thank my family, my friends, the staff at the office, the Republican Party and Knox County citizens for their support,” he said. “I'm excited to keep working.”
Shaffer said challenges in the next four years include software projects, keeping the inmate population healthy during the coronavirus pandemic, and budget issues.
“As a result of this [COVID-19], we'll have to work around budgetary things and be proactive on the budget and cost issues,” he said. “For how long, who knows. We'll have to work with the commissioners and see what happens.”
Weckesser expressed gratitude following Tuesday night's defeat.
"I'd like to say thank you to all of my supporters," he said.
Referencing the provisional and absentee ballots yet to be counted, he added, "If I don't win, I will be back in four years."
NIXON TOPS DILTS: In the race for county juvenile/probate judge, incumbent Jay Nixon fended off challenger John Dilts to earn his first full term in office.
Nixon, who was appointed to the position in 2018 following the retirement of Judge Jennifer Springer, earned 68.59% (4,669) of the vote, while Dilts captured 31.41% (2,138). Dilts, a juvenile/probate attorney practicing in Richland County, was running for his first term in office.
Normally stoic, Nixon had a hard time containing his excitement following Tuesday night's win.
“I’m really happy with the results, obviously. I just want to thank my supporters, my family, friends, committee, and everyone who braved the coronavirus and was able to vote in these very unfortunate circumstances," Nixon said.
"I’m overwhelmed and humbled by the responsibility that the citizens of Knox County have put upon me, and I will endeavor to be the best juvenile/probate judge I can be moving forward.”
Nixon praised Dilts for his campaign efforts, calling him a "great lawyer" and a "formidable opponent."
Nixon will officially begin his six-year term on Feb. 9, 2021. He is looking forward to implementing a CASA program (court appointed special advocate) to advocate on behalf of children. He also plans to expand the court's specialized docket program to Family Dependency Court.
"I really think the specialized docket structure is great for what we have there," Nixon said. "I’m very excited to expand that."
Nixon said he is looking to maintain and develop public-private partnerships in order to "continue our progress in making life better for the families and children of Knox County."
BEMILLER, COLLIER RE-ELECTED: Two longtime county commissioners had no problem fending off challengers Tuesday night.
Teresa Bemiller earned her fourth consecutive term in office by defeating challenger Eric Wisyanski. Bemiller finished with 76.02% of the vote (5,276), while Wisyanski captured 23.98% (1,664). Wisyanski, the maintenance manager for AMG Industries, was running for his first term in office.
Following suit, Thom Collier defeated challenger Barry Lester to earn his third consecutive term in office. Collier took 60.07% (4,205) of the vote, while Lester collected 39.93% (2,795). Lester was running for his first term in office; he worked as an executive in the auto industry for nearly three decades before recently becoming the manager of Mount Vernon Country Club.
Both Bemiller and Collier thanked the voters of Knox County for another opportunity to represent their interests.
“I’m always humbled and appreciative of the support I’ve received from the voters of Knox County," Collier said. "I value their vote of confidence and hope to serve them well for the next four years."
Bemiller and Collier helped Knox County regain financial stability following the Great Recession. Now, the commissioners will be tasked with keeping the county afloat amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Both acknowledged Tuesday night that financial prudence will be their top priority moving forward.
“I think obviously keeping the county financially stable is extremely important," Bemiller said. "It’s one of the biggest things we do... and especially now with the COVID-19 situation, I think we’ll be paying a lot of attention to our budget moving forward."
Collier believes the duo's experience – a combined 58 years of elected and appointed government service, spanning all levels – will be crucial in keeping Knox County stable during these uncertain times.
“I think it’s especially important right now, as you go through times of crisis," he said of maintaining continuity in leadership. "We’ve worked well together and we will continue to do so. I think having that experience is a big bonus."
Moving Knox County forward over the coming years will require strong financial stewardship, Collier said, including knowing when to continue or back off certain projects.
"It’s kind of a waiting game at this point, to see how long this goes on," he said. "We’re well-prepared for it, at least. We’ve made good decisions over the last few years.”
Bemiller said the commissioners will continue to utilize public-private partnerships to keep Knox County stable during the crisis.
"We’re just looking to see, are there other ways we can become more efficient, other partnerships we can become a part of?" Bemiller said.
“There’s always more to do. There’s always new challenges. So it’s just about facing those and working with my two fellow commissioners to make informed decisions.”
Bemiller will officially begin her four-year term on Jan. 2, 2021. Collier will begin his Jan. 3. The county's third commissioner, Bill Pursel (R), was elected in 2018 and is currently midway through his first four-year term.
RUNNING UNOPPOSED: The following county officials ran unopposed on Tuesday:
- Chip McConville (R), county prosecutor
- Christy Staton (R), county clerk of courts
- John Lybarger (R), county recorder
- Shelley Coon (R), county treasurer
- Cameron Keaton (R), county engineer
- Jennifer Ogle (R), county coroner
The winners of Knox County's Republican primary races will run unopposed in November, as no Democrats filed to run for county positions.
STATE RACES: There were three state races on this year’s primary ballot. Here’s how Knox County voted:
Representative for Ohio’s 7th congressional district – Republican primary
Bob Gibbs (R): 100% (6,365)
Representative for Ohio’s 7th congressional district – Libertarian primary
Brandon Lape (L): 100% (18)
Representative for Ohio’s 68th House district – Republican primary
Rick Carfagna (R): 100% (6,181)
Representative for Ohio’s 68th House district – Democratic primary
Steven Mount (D): 100% (2,095)
Judge for the Ohio Fifth District Court of Appeals – Republican primary
Jeff Furr: 100% (5,927)
Judge for the Ohio Fifth District Court of Appeals – Democratic primary
William Hoffman: 100% (2,095)
Judge for Ohio Supreme Court – Republican primary
Sharon Kennedy: 100% (6,031)
Judge for Ohio Supreme Court – Democratic primary
John O'Donnell: 100% (2,088)
Judge for Ohio Supreme Court – Republican primary
Judith French: 100% (5,834)
Judge for Ohio Supreme Court – Democratic primary
Jennifer Brunner: 100% (2,201)
COUNTY CENTRAL COMMITTEE (DEMOCRATIC): The following people were elected to the Knox County Democratic Party Central Committee:
- Paula Barone
- Mary Rugola-Dye
- Adam Gilson
- Janet Chandler
- Joyce Skocic
- James Arnott
- Franklin Brown
- Dennis Rawson
- David Janiszewski
- Linda Michaels
- Jill Grubb
- Mary Chapa
- Elaine Stull
- Kathleen Tate
- Margaret Dunn
- Erin Salva
COUNTY CENTRAL COMMITTEE (REPUBLICAN): The following people were elected to the Knox County Republican Party Central Committee:
- Shelley Coon
- Deborah Malek
- Joshua Kirby
- Jamie Richardson
- Paul Dove
- Bruce Hawkins
- Jeff Gottke
- John Nixon
- Chip McConville
- Richard Brenneman
- Christy Staton
- Galen Smith
- Teresa Bemiller
- Douglas McLarnan
- Claude Gates
- Jason Rogers
- Saundra Dove
- Richard Bline
- Sally Slonaker
- Cynthia Higgs
- Zachary DiMarco
- Cameron Keaton
- Scott Pullins
- William Pursel
- Clint Lingel
- Terry Divelbiss
- Brandon Crunkilton
- William Lawhon Jr.
- Brittany Whitney
- Joseph Mazzari III
- Diane Randall
- Alan Kintner
- Margaret Ruhl
COUNTY CENTRAL COMMITTEE (LIBERTARIAN): The following people were elected to the Knox County Libertarian Party Central Committee:
- Lance Stalnaker
- Brandon Lape
- Krystal Gonchar
- Patrick Glasgow
- Jay Steinmetz
REPUBLICAN MEMBER OF STATE CENTRAL COMMITTEE (MAN):
Fred Dailey: 69.10% (4,428)
Jack Etheridge: 17.10% (1,096)
Doug Moody: 13.80% (884)
REPUBLICAN MEMBER OF STATE CENTRAL COMMITTEE (WOMAN):
Melanie Leneghan: 56.05% (3,490)
Eileen Watts: 43.95% (2,737)
LIBERTARIAN MEMBER OF STATE CENTRAL COMMITTEE:
Patrick Glasgow: 100% (17)
PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY: President Donald Trump (R) and former vice president Joe Biden (D) won their respective primary races easily in Ohio on Tuesday night. Trump ran unopposed, while Biden took 73% of the Democratic vote. Trump and Biden are expected to square off this November for the presidency.
LOCAL QUESTIONS AND ISSUES: Eight questions or issues were put before Knox County voters in this year’s primary election. Here were the results:
Central Ohio Joint Fire District – three-year, 5.5-mill replacement levy for fire and EMS services
Yes: 71% (564 votes)
No: 29% (227)
Clinton Township – gas aggregation option
Yes: 49% (224)
No: 51% (231)
Fast Freddies – Sunday liquor sales
Yes: 55% (43)
No: 45% (35)
Fredericktown Joint EMS District – additional 1-mill property tax to provide EMS services
Yes: 49% (846)
No: 51% (858)
Miller Township – five-year, 1.4-mill replacement levy to provide emergency medical services
Yes: 73% (144)
No: 27% (52)
Miller Township – five-year, 1.2-mill replacement levy to provide fire equipment and protection services
Yes: 71% (144)
No: 29% (58)
Morris Township – three-year, 4-mill renewal levy to provide fire and EMS services
Yes: 77% (195)
No: 23% (57)
Village of Brinkhaven – five-year, 2.5-mill replacement levy for the village’s general fund, to cover basic operational costs
Yes: 68% (15)
No: 32% (7)
Results from Tuesday's primary election will remain unofficial until they are certified by the Knox County Board of Elections on March 15. Absentee ballots postmarked by April 27 will be accepted until March 8.
Ohio’s primary election was originally scheduled to take place March 17. However, as the novel coronavirus began to spread across Ohio, state officials became increasingly wary of holding in-person voting that day. After a night of litigation and last-minute planning, the state officially postponed the election just hours before polls were set to open.
Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton signed an order late March 16 canceling in-person voting the following day.
"During this time when we face an unprecedented public health crisis, to conduct an election tomorrow would force poll workers and voters to place themselves at an unacceptable health risk of contracting coronavirus,” Gov. Mike DeWine said in a statement at the time. “As such, Health Director Dr. Amy Acton will order the polls closed as a health emergency.”
State legislators approved a plan on March 25 to extend absentee voting until April 28. Registered voters had until April 25 at noon to request an absentee ballot application (they could also be printed off the Knox County Board of Elections’ website), and they had to be postmarked by April 27 (Monday) or placed in the BOE’s dropbox by 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
In-person voting was still available Tuesday for those with disabilities requiring a marking device, those who were unable to receive mail, and those who submitted a properly completed absentee application by noon April 25 but had yet to receive a ballot.