Story updated to reflect Wednesday final vote count in Chatham County

A longtime Savannah lawyer will face off against a community activist in a runoff next month as the Democratic candidate to take on Republican Rep. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter in this fall’s general election for Coastal Georgia’s seat in the House of Representatives.

Unofficial vote counts showed Joyce Marie Griggs, the activist who has run for Congress twice before, garnered 48.86% of the vote to Wade Herring’s 37.43%. Michelle Munroe, a hospital administrator from Richmond Hill, came in a distant third with 13.63%.

The top two candidates will now compete in a runoff June 21.

In another closely watched local race, Roger Moss decisively won a three-person race to become Savannah-Chatham County Public School System Board of Education president. Moss had 50.1% of the vote after Chatham County finished counting ballots Wednesday after technical problems at one of its 91 precincts. By staying above 50%, Moss avoids a runoff. His rivals Tye Whitely and Todd Rhodes received 26.89% and 22.94%, respectively.

Moss, a professional vocalist and thespian who co-founded the renowned Savannah Children’s Choir 15 years ago and is associated with two Savannah charter schools, had raised an extraordinary amount of money for his campaign. He had approximately $190,000 in individual donations and the support of a local political action committee which raised more than $80,000 for four school board candidates. Moss was the only one of the slate backed by the PAC to win.  

Chatham’s vote, like all votes across Georgia, remain unofficial until certified by counties and then the state. For a county by county summary of races in Coastal Georgia, click here.

Meanwhile, in the primary’s marquee statewide race, former President Donald Trump’s hopes of exacting revenge against Governor Brian Kemp were dashed. Kemp easily avoided a runoff with the former president’s hand-picked challenger, former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, in the Republican contest for governor. With 88.05% of the vote counted, Kemp held an insurmountable lead with 73.52% of the vote to Perdue’s 21.94%.

Kemp’s landslide victory sets him on a collision course with Democrat Stacey Abrams in the general election, whom he defeated by 54,623 votes, or 1.8% of the vote, in the 2018 governor’s race.

Perdue conceded the race a little more than an hour after the polls closed at 7 p.m. Tuesday. As he has done throughout his campaign, with varying degrees of credibility given his caustic comments about the governor, Perdue declared his support for the party’s nominee in the general election.

“I am fully supporting Brian Kemp,” said Perdue, who also lost to Democrat Jon Ossoff in his campaign for reelection to the U.S. Senate in 2020. “Tomorrow morning you are going to hear me going to work to go to work to make damn sure Stacey Abrams is not the next governor of Georgia.”

Trump had recruited a reluctant Perdue to run against Kemp, claiming that the Georgia governor had “allowed massive election fraud to take place” in the 2020 presidential election. Kemp drew Trump’s ire when he rejected the president’s baseless claims of widespread voter fraud.

In all, Trump endorsed 13 Republican candidates in a primary that drew national attention as a barometer of former President Donald Trump’s grip on the GOP and his Oval Office prospects in 2024

Three of the endorsees — Jody Hice, John Gordon, Patrick Witt — were trailing badly in their races. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker, and Burt Jones, a candidate for lieutenant governor, were heading to victory. In his race for the District 10 seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, Vernon Jones appeared headed for a runoff. Three other Trump-endorsed congressmen — Buddy Carter, Barry Loudermilk, Rick Allen — ran unopposed.

More locally, among the three Democrats vying to run against Rep. Carter in the fall, Griggs leveraged her name recognition in her third attempt to win the seat, although questions lingered about her disbarments from practicing in federal and state courts in the early 2000s. During the primary, she pledged to address the interests of all of Coastal Georgia’s residents if she’s elected to Congress. 

Herring based much of his campaign on what he has described as the “unconscionable actions” of Carter after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol when he joined other delegation members to object to the certification of the Electoral College votes.

Moss, the new school board president, has never held elected office, but he has worked in the establishment of two Savannah charter schools. During the primary campaign he emerged as the favored candidate of voters across the political spectrum including — to the dismay of many Democrats — ardent supporters of charter schools, as well as conservative Republicans who view school boards as the new battleground to fight the infiltration of alleged liberal socialist ideas into the classroom.

Voters express frustration

Many who turned out at local schools, churches, and community centers from Chatham to Glynn County expressed concern about the direction of the country and hoped their vote would, in a modest way, change the status quo.

“Everything has been going south the last few months — prices, inflation, everything,” Wayne Mathis, 68, a retired electrician, standing in the crowded parking lot of a polling station at the Wilmington Island Presbyterian Church. “It’s got to get going the other way.”

At the Windsor Forest Baptist Church in south Savannah, Holly Powell, a 56-year-old Realtor, said she voted for incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp in his race against former U.S. Senator David Perdue for the Republican nomination for governor.

“I think he’s going to take the state in the right direction and go against all of the liberal things that are ruining our country — all the gross overpayments that we’re doing to things, and the shutting down of our economy and our society,” Powell said.

Three weeks of early voting signaled what could be an historic voter turnout. More than 860,068 voters cast a ballot either in person or by absentee ballot — a 168% increase over the 2018 gubernatorial primary and a 212% jump above 2020 primary.

Republican voters top Democrat totals

Of the 860,068 voters, 488,039 were people voting with Republican ballots and 374,591 were voters using Democratic ballots. Under Georgia’s open primary system, registered voters do not have to be members of a party to vote in that party’s primary.

While many citizens along Georgia’s coast were motivated to vote by the top-of-the-ballot race to select the Republican gubernatorial race between incumbent Brian Kemp and David Perdue, the former senator, others were concentrating on local elections like who will run the school board in Chatham, Georgia’s sixth-largest county, and how to shake up the Glynn County Board of Commissioners.

Also important for local voters was the robust competition between Democrats to select a candidate to run against Rep. Earl “Buddy” Carter, the congressman representing Georgia’s First District, in the Nov. 8 election. Katie Christie, a 41-year-old Glynn County resident said she voted for Wade Herring because “he’s actually the only one that I had seen stuff on social media and all that and knew more about him.”

First time candidate Michelle Munroe and Joyce Marie Griggs, who ran for the seat unsuccessfully in 2000 and 2020, are also running for the nomination. 

Voters take on responsibilities

Besides the marquee Republican gubernatorial race, voters were casting ballots in congressional, local and nonpartisan races.

The civic obligation to vote weighed heavily on the minds of many on Tuesday.

When asked why he was voting, one veteran in Brunswick, who refused to give his name, answered simply. “Because I’ve seen the bodies on the battlefield.”

In Chatham County, voters were deciding who will lead the school board of the Savannah Chatham County Public School System. Purported frontrunners Roger Moss and Tye Whiteley each came to the election with their own strengths: Moss had a large campaign finance war chest; Whitely had an endorsement from Democratic voting rights group Fair Fight.

As well, Chatham voters filled four open Board of Elections seats and selecting who will sit on the Superior Court and Recorder’s Court benches. 

In Pooler, meanwhile, residents were deciding whether to add Chatham Area Transit bus stops to the city’s streets. According to Pooler Mayor Rebecca Benton, the proposal would increase property taxes for Pooler residents by 1.5 mills. While some voters said the infrastructure was not in place to support the CAT expansion, others said it was overdue.

“I think it’s really needed,” said Sarah Knighton, a 5th grade teacher hurrying to vote on the last day of school before summer vacation.

Reflecting Coastal Georgia’s shifting demographics, three Latino grassroots activists stood in the parking lot outside the polling station at the Pooler Recreation Center as polls opened to provide any Spanish-speaking voter with English language assistance.

Voting was crucial for the Latino community, said Daniela Rodriguez, 27, a volunteer for Latino Community Fund Georgia.

“Voting is your power, it’s your voice, to get elected officials who create change for the community,” Rodriquez said. “It’s not only you. It’s for your family and community as a whole.”

Republicans looked to build future

Georgia’s Republican Party stalwarts, meanwhile, have described the results of the Tuesday primary as the future of the soul of the state party — and a barometer for national Republican politics.

Besides Kemp, the Republican primary ballot features another incumbent who refused to knuckle under to pressure from former President Trump following the 2020 election.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger turned down Trump’s request to “find” enough votes to reverse Trump’s loss in Georgia. Kemp rebuffed Trump’s demand that he refuse to certify the results of the election and instead convene a special session of the Georgia legislature to name a new slate of GOP electors.

Trump recruited former U.S. Senator Perdue to try to defeat Kemp and endorsed Rep. Jody Hice in his race against Raffensperger.

Looming above the Kemp-Perdue race for some voters was the Democratic nominee for governor, Stacey Abrams.

“As long as Stacey Abrams don’t get in there, I don’t care,” said Michael King, 56, who works for Chemtall Inc., a chemical plant in Riceboro. He voted for Perdue.

Kemp’s campaign team and supporters were confident that the governor would defeat Perdue by a landslide, and avoid a runoff. Perdue, on the other hand, said his supporters will prove Trump’s continued relevance in the state and national party.

Polls indicate a much closer race for the Republican secretary of state candidates.

Scott Ryfun, who anchors the largest talk radio show in South Georgia, defended recent public opinion polls showing Kemp winning a landslide.

“I think the polls look reasonable,” Ryfun told The Current, noting that many Republican voters are keen to avoid a replay of the 2020-2021 runoffs that saw Democrats John Ossoff and Raphael Warnock defeat Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.

Kenny Welch, 69, a self-employed businessman in Ware County was a typical Kemp voter in Coastal Georgia. Perdue and Trump’s obsession with the 2020 election was wearisome, he said, and not reflective of issues he considers important.

Quotable: “We voted straight Republican.”

“I think Kemp’s done an outstanding job. You know, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. So, I’m sorry for Mr. Trump’s endorsement of Perdue,” Welch said. “I mean, 2020 is gone. Let’s move on.”

Election process sees few tests

Fears of election integrity or voter suppression appeared overblown Tuesday, which was the first election conducted under Georgia’s new election law.

Early Tuesday, at Isle of Hope Baptist in Chatham County, 25 people were in line at 8:30 a.m. Two of four voting machines were not working. Poll workers set up a fifth machine rather quickly.

The Chatham County Board of Elections head told WTOC that the county was missing over 50 poll workers Tuesday morning because several Savannah-Chatham graduations were taking place and those workers wanted to see their children and grandchildren walk in commencement. He also said the absent workers wouldn’t affect operations at the polls across Georgia’s sixth-most populous county.

Small technical glitches occurred early Tuesday elsewhere in Coastal Georgia, but county officials moved swiftly to ensure safe and trustworthy voting.

Lisa Thomas, a Democratic voter in Liberty County, drove with her rescue dog Timmie to her precinct in Riceboro and voted before lunchtime. She said voting was a positive experience. “This morning went smoothly. No lines, just smiles from the poll workers,” she told The Current.

Craig Nelson is a former international correspondent for The Associated Press, the Sydney (Australia) Morning-Herald, Cox Newspapers and The Wall Street Journal. He also served as foreign editor for The...

William Daughtry

William Daughtry, a contributor at The Current, is a native of McIntosh County, Georgia. He is a student at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication and is a contributor...