Candidate Mitchell Jenkins decided last week to revive arguably the most heated race in Swain County for one more round.
After coming in second in the Democratic primary for sheriff, Jenkins has called for a runoff against top vote-getter John Ensley.
Competing with a whopping seven other candidates, Ensley’s 28 percent of the vote was impressive, but insufficient to secure his win. A runoff can be held whenever the winner fails to get 40 percent of the vote.
Jenkins said he didn’t like the idea of a runoff from the get-go, but he received calls from more than 50 people, urging him to fight on.
“They said ‘You can’t back out now, you still have a chance of winning this thing,’” said Jenkins. “They more or less put me on the spot.”
Though Jenkins trailed behind Ensley’s 513 votes with 285 votes of his own, he expects that margin to be a whole lot closer this time around.
Ensley said he is disappointed about starting all over again but acknowledged Jenkins’ full right to call for a runoff.
“We’re definitely prepared to go the distance,” Ensley said. “I had hoped that our party would unite, that we could look towards the fall.”
Whoever wins will face Sheriff Curtis Cochran, a Republican who has held the seat for four years. In the Republican primary this year, Cochran won in a landslide with 525 votes, compared to his lone competitor Wayne Dover’s 156.
Ensley said it’s a shame the runoff election would cost county taxpayers, who will foot the bill for printing the ballots and manning the polls.
But in this case, the county was already planning a runoff between Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate when Jenkins signed up. Adding sheriff candidates to the same ballot won’t cost the county any more than it was already shelling out.
Another of Ensley’s concerns is the high chance of low turnout at a second primary.
“I think it’s going to be a challenge,” Ensley said. “We’re having to bring people back out to vote.”
While that is normally the case, in the primary earlier this month, Swain had a voter turnout of 28 percent, nearly double the state average, showing widespread interest in local races.
The runoff election will be held Tuesday, June 22, while early voting will take place from Tuesday, June 3, to Saturday, June 19.
To find out more, contact the Board of Elections.
It’s not clear what Swain County commissioners are hoping to accomplish by turning over to the District Attorney’s office the investigation into the way the sheriff’s office handled excess meal money, but there’s evidence that a long list of people could be implicated if this probe is taken seriously.