Garland Watkins supporters greet early voters Monday morning at the old courthouse in Jonesboro.
The first early voters were greeted Monday morning at the old courthouse by the enthusiastic supporters of a write-in candidate for Clayton County sheriff.
Wearing T-shirts, holding signs and even showing off a tractor-trailer truck with the candidate’s name and face plastered on both sides, the supporters of Garland Watkins got across their message: Write-in a vote for Watkins. Drivers passing along McDonough Street honked in solidarity.
Watkins, Clayton sheriff’s chief deputy, hopes to garner enough votes to bounce Victor Hill out of the running for sheriff. Watkins, 50, qualified as a write-in candidate last month, after Hill defeated Sheriff Kem Kimbrough. Hill was first elected in 2004 as the county’s first black sheriff. He lost a re-election bid to Kimbrough in 2008.
Hill, 47, was indicted in January by a Clayton County grand jury for 37 felonies related to his term of office. He is the first sheriff-elect in Clayton to win office while under felony indictment. Watkins is hoping to unseat him Nov. 6.
“If people didn’t think in their hearts that there’s a problem in the sheriff’s office race, they wouldn’t consider a write-in candidate,” he said. “But they need to ask themselves which one of us positively reflects the values of the county? Is it me or is it Victor Hill?”
Georgia law prohibits campaigning within 150 feet of a polling place and campaigners stayed well outside that boundary. However, because of the open nature of the courthouse landscape, it was nearly impossible to not see the Watkins name plastered on the side of vehicles or road signs. He just hopes it is effective.
“We want to make sure people know they have a choice, that they have the opportunity to make their vote count Nov. 6,” he said. “I think it went exceptionally well and I’m excited about it. We’re getting positive support all over the county. People want change and they want positive change.”
Clayton Solicitor General Tasha Mosley was one of the first voters in line at the old courthouse Monday.
“I always try to be here on the first day,” she said. “I’m going to get my sticker that says, ‘I voted,’ and I’m good.”
Mosley said she was impressed by the turnout.
“There’s usually only a handful of folks on the first day, this is a good turnout,” she said.
In line behind her was Linval Sterling of Jonesboro. He had a couple of reasons for voting early.
“I like to avoid the long lines on Election Day for one thing,” he said. “And I’m here to elect the person I think is best to lead. Voting has always been an important part of my adult life.”
Sterling said he is concerned about a person’s leadership abilities and the national economy.
“We need someone in there who is going to bring back the economy,” he said.
On the local level, Watkins said he is meeting voters who are proud of the step he’s taking for Clayton County.
“There are a lot of people thanking me for doing this,” he said. “For having the gumption to step up to the plate, to make positive changes for Clayton County. It’s uplifting. People are more in tune than we thought.”
Regardless of what happens Nov. 6, Hill will head to a courtroom Nov. 26. His trial is expected to last more than a week. Presiding Judge Albert Collier said attorneys will seat a 12-juror panel out of 36 qualified members.
Hill could spend years in prison if convicted on all 37 felonies. If convicted of even one felony as sheriff-elect, he will be ineligible to hold office. Kimbrough will serve until Dec. 31 and an interim sheriff is expected to be appointed to take office Jan. 1.