Forsyth County sheriff’s race reaches finish line

Two candidates battle for office control

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Editor's Note: Duane Piper won the Nov. 6 election.

FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — About a year ago, Duane Piper, then a lieutenant in the criminal investigations unit of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, decided to run for his boss’s job.

He was ready to take on Sheriff Ted Paxton for what he called a more “efficient and effective” way to run the office.

One of those who discouraged Piper from running was David Townsend “D.T.” Smith, a lieutenant colonel with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office headquarters bureau.

“I told him not to run against Ted because he didn’t have a chance,” Smith said.

But when Piper, 49, won the Aug. 21 runoff against Paxton, Smith said he saw an opportunity to run as a write-in candidate.

On Nov. 6, an anxiety-filled sheriff’s race showdown reaches the finish line.

Smith, 58, who has worked for the office for 25 years, said he has always wanted to be sheriff.

“I have patterned my career for this goal of becoming sheriff,” Smith said.

Smith even unsuccessfully ran for the seat of sheriff in 2000 against Paxton.

Piper, who has worked for the office for the last 16 years and quit to run for the office, calls Smith’s decision to run as a write-in candidate, a “rash decision.”

“For me, it was a process of a couple years, voicing my concerns from the inside,” Piper said. “It became obvious that a different direction wasn’t desired by Sheriff Paxton and the command staff, and I had the vision and desire to bring about the new direction.

“In contrast to the write-in candidate, who told me I was crazy and it couldn’t be done,” Piper said. “He didn’t think he could do it. I think our public will not be fooled by that and see in the impulsiveness of it.”

Smith said his decision to not run against Paxton was a personal one.

“Ted and I had an agreement that I wouldn’t run against him, and I kept my word,” Smith said.

Smith said he brings experience, training and upper management credentials to the office.

“Lieutenant is the rank that Duane had achieved, and he was lieutenant for three years,” Smith said. “I have control and responsibility for a large number of employees. I have more experience and more training.

“I don’t want to see an agency that I helped to develop for the last 25 years go in a direction that I’m not quite sure he knows how to take us there,” said Smith.

Smith’s main challenge is to remind voters he’s a viable candidate.

“We are hearing that there is more interest now in the write-in portion of voting in early polls than ever before,” Smith said.

ELECTION TURNOUT

Forsyth County Elections Supervisor Barbara Luth said the voting turnout has been “excellent.”

This presidential election, which tends to have the highest number of voter turnout, could surpass 2008 numbers due to newly introduced Saturday voting.

“We have poll workers working voting in the office and the staff members are keeping up with the mail outs,” Luth said. “We have anywhere from 50 to a little over 100 ballots going out a day still.”

Luth said votes would be tallied by about 11 p.m. or so especially with being able to start counting mailed-in ballots earlier in the day.

“Now that we are able to open ballots early and sequester that group, it helps a lot,” Luth said.

Luth said when it comes to a write-in candidate, she has not seen a winner, even in her time working in Gwinnett County’s election office.

She explained that when you push the write-in portion of the ballot, a keyboard lets voters apply the candidate’s name.

The board of elections will make the decision on the “intent of the voter” and what the voter wanted to do, if it’s unclear. Misspellings are not so bad.

“But if they just put ‘Smith,’ I’m not sure what the board will do,” Luth said. “That’s ambiguous, it could be any Smith, but as long as they try to get the first name, or D.T. If they mishit a letter, it’s kind of obvious when you look at the keyboard, so it will be the intent of the voter.”

Mailed in ballots will be tabulated manually, the computer program will print out the write-in for poll workers to count.

For Piper, he said he’s not taking the election for granted and he’s reminding his supporters his win in the runoff did not mean an end to his campaign.

“We will be opening up the campaign a little more with mailers, calling and advertisers,” Piper said. “It’s my belief that citizens of Forsyth County are sophisticated voters. I think they appreciate that I planned it, ran a yearlong campaign, had a specific platform and I was consistent with it.”

Piper, who campaigned to cut unnecessary spending in the office’s budget, said one of the positions he will cut if he’s elected is that of Smith.

“The position he holds, bureau director, is one of the unnecessary levels of management and I will be eliminating that entire layer,” Piper said.

Smith has been on a sprint to the finish and his job now depends on his win.

He spent every day at the Cumming Country Fair, greeting people and reminding them that even though his name is not on the ballot, they can still vote for him.

“That’s what you got to do,” Smith said. “You got to go where the people are. We are reaching people through emails, YouTube videos and a little bit of everything.”

To locate polling location and hours, visit www.forsythco.com