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Clayton County voters have until 7 p.m. to cast ballots in several contests, including the hotly-contested sheriff’s race and, in Jonesboro, for the next mayor.

9.521 voters cast ballots in the countywide elections during early voting, according to the Elections and Registration Office.

Good weather over the weekend and a chilly but clear and sunny Election Day gave the candidates and their footsoldiers a last-minute boost as they canvassed neighborhoods, gave speeches, and waved at passing traffic.

Many people have shared photos, hot tips, and unverifiable gossip with The Clayton Crescent during this election. We don’t pass along everything we hear, juicy as it may be. But we can report the following:

In Jonesboro’s nonpartisan mayor’s race on Sunday, the city’s unofficial Republican headquarters, Crane Hardware, hosted mayoral candidate Pat Sebo-Hand and city council candidate Arlene Charles, who is running against Democrat and former councilman Alfred Dixon for the only contested council seat. The event was a small-town political rally-slash-barbecue, with Sebo-Hand’s husband grilling hot dogs and people’s kids and dogs bouncing around.

Sebo-Hand and Charles offered themselves as a package deal and were out campaigning together again on Tuesday morning across from the Jonesboro City Center polling place, near supporters of mayoral candidate Donya Sartor.

Sheriff’s candidate Chris Storey dropped by to address the crowd of about 20. As he took the mic, rival Clarence Cox drove past in his custom-wrapped campaign bus and beeped the horn. Later, House District 75 candidate Drew Andrews, a Democrat, stopped by and was offered the mic to say a few words.

A few blocks away from the Sunday event, Sartor was making targeted visits to voters’ homes. The Clayton Crescent caught up with her at one house, where the elderly couple had asked her to come over and talk with them about her campaign. After a while, Sartor and the man emerged and chatted on the porch. She called the lady of the house to come out and take a picture with them. The woman insisted that she had to put on some makeup first, then emerged to endorse Sartor—who was the first person to tell her where to vote in the municipal election.

Sartor said the city was supposed to have sent out postcards telling people where to vote, but that not everyone she had spoken with had gotten one.

Over the past week, door hangers with Sartor’s photo and the words “Black Girl Magic” infuriated some Jonesboro residents, as well as former Mayor Joy Day, who no longer lives in the city, is stumping for Sebo-Hand, her longtime friend and political ally. Day had sent a photo of the door hanger to The Clayton Crescent, complaining that “it’s making race the issue.” The door hanger was put out by CASA in Action, a progressive group that backs “candidates that advance its membership’s priorities and facilitates greater engagement of Latinos and voters of color in elections.” Day has made several posts backing Sebo-Hand and said that Sartor was making the contest about race:

Former Jonesboro Mayor Joy Day throws shade at mayoral candidate and former councilmember Donya Sartor, on behalf of longtime friend and former councilwoman Pat Sebo-Hand, who is running against Sartor.

Day resigned August 16, 2022

In a February 27 press release, the group echoed Sartor’s claims of voter suppression in the municipal election, citing low voter turnout in previous cycles. While on city council, Sartor had called for the city election to be combined with the county ballot, saying it would save the city money. CASA in Action stated that “Jonesboro’s municipal races will be held on the same day as the countywide races, to be held in a different location that also houses the sheriff’s office.” While municipal and countywide polling are in different places, no polling place is located at the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office.

Sartor told The Clayton Crescent that her campaign had not put out the door hangers. She also has received endorsements from the Working Families Party and the Elect Black Women PAC, which encourages candidates to apply for endorsement.

The city’s new early voting location is in the community room of the new City Center building, which houses the Jonesboro Police Department. City Manager Ricky Clark and Police Chief Tommy Henderson told The Clayton Crescent that JPD is on the opposite side of the building from the community room, and that JPD officers, other than the two working security at the front door to the City Center, are forbidden from walking on that side of the building during early voting and the election.

Some workers at the polling place were less than cordial when The Clayton Crescent made stops during early voting to check out the new polling place and to document it for the record. About half an hour after City Manager Ricky Clark told staff he would allow The Clayton Crescent to enter and photograph the polling place—which Georgia state election law allows at the poll manager’s discretion—and issued a poll watcher credential, Clark returned and said the city attorney had found no “black letter law” allowing reporters to observe inside the polling place. After a conference call with the city attorney and the Georgia Secretary of State’s Elections Office, Clark then offered to set up a table in a doorway, inside the atrium, for The Clayton Crescent to observe voting procedures. We declined his offer.

Like Day, former sheriff and convicted felon Victor Hill just can’t quit his former office. While awaiting word from the Bureau of Prisons as to where he will spend the next 18 months, Hill continues to promote Interim Sheriff and godson Levon Allen, escorting his protege to tightly-controlled appearances around the county, then posting about each stop after the fact on Facebook. Two people e-mailed one of Hill’s photos of Allen to The Clayton Crescent, pointing out that Allen was wearing a pistol in the small of his back, seemingly without a holster, while playing touch football with kids in Starr Park. They complained that it was unsafe.

Interim Sheriff Levon Allen parks CCSO’s incident command center, emblazoned with his name, on Jonesboro Road in Forest Park as voting ends March 21. No hostage situation had been reported at the Piggly Wiggly by press timne. (Photo: Mike McBroom)

Hill’s social media minions temporarily piped down the weekend before Hill was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison and six years’ supervised release and for a day or two after that. Soon enough, they began their coordinated attacks on anyone they deemed not sufficiently obsequious towards the Dynamic Duo. Some were particularly upset with The Clayton Crescent, which has covered problems in the Clayton County Jail for the past three years, as well as the federal trials of Hill, former Chief of Staff Mitzi Bickers. They falsely claimed that The Clayton Crescent has not covered problems at the Clayton County Police Department.

The Clarence Cox campaign engages in a little Spy vs. Spy at a Levon Allen sign-waving location on Election Day (Photo: Robin Kemp/The Clayton Crescent)

On Election Day, as the Allen troops were out in force campaigning on Tara Boulevard, word got out among the press corps that Hill was campaigning with Allen. The campaign began moving around soon after. The Clayton Crescent caught up with Allen at Jonesboro Road and Georgia Hwy. 138, but Hill was nowhere in sight. Asked where Hill was, Allen pointed uphill in the general direction of a black SUV that Allen later entered from the passenger side. Several Hill campaigners made a point of photographing this reporter and commenting on the quality of The Clayton Crescent’s news coverage.

As the Allen troops began leaving for their next pop-up location, a truck festooned with Clarence Cox signs and blasting James Brown pulled around them and into the gas station parking lot, trolling them as they pulled out.

Later, Hill trolled “the media” by posting a video of a TV photographer following Allen supporters who, according to Hill, were pushing a stalled car off of Tara Boulevard.

Charlene Watson-Fraser never qualified as a write-in candidate for the special election, but urged voters to write in her name anyway. She later claimeid she was running early for the regular election in 2024.

Charlene Watson-Fraser, who had said she was running for sheriff but did not file qualifying papers for the special election, is still calling for people to write in her name as a candidate. The Clayton Crescent asked Watson-Fraser in mid-February whether she knew that candidates had seven days after the qualifying date to get on as write-in candidates. to that non-qualified candidate write-in votes are not counted. On March 6, she replied, “Thank you. I am clear.” As late as last week, Watson-Fraser and her supporters were still telling voters to write in her name. She then said she was running early for the regular election. The Clayton Crescent asked Watson-Fraser whether she was worried about confusing voters this close to the special election, what the advantage of campaigning during the 2023 special election for a 2024 race might be, and whether she was trying to “peel off votes from qualified candidates and, if so, to whose advantage?” She did not respond.

One comment we heard repeated over and over again, by voters and candidates alike, was “I can’t wait for this election to be over.” Many more decided to cosign that sentiment in advance: Less than 5% of registered voters turned out early in Clayton County.

Robin Kemp is executive editor and CEO of The Clayton Crescent, which she founded in 2020. She has worked for Gambit, CNN, The Weather Channel, Clayton News, Henry Herald, and numerous freelance outlets....

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