Sheriff’s Election

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 26, 2010

Panola Sheriff Otis Griffin (center) is surrounded by well-wishers Tuesday at the county courthouse in Batesville after election returns showed he had defeated opponent Dennis Darby in a runoff. The Panolian photo by Angie Ledbetter

Bigger turnout goes to Griffin

By Billy Davis

Panola County’s interim sheriff handily won a special election Tuesday, moving well beyond the razor-thin lead three weeks ago.   

Otis Griffin defeated Dennis Darby by 514 votes to complete the four-year term of late sheriff Hugh “Shot” Bright.

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Griffin led Darby 54 percent to 48 percent, according to unofficial returns.

Election totals showed 12,919 votes were cast Tuesday, either at a voting precinct or via absentee, outpacing the 12,552 ballots cast Nov. 2.

The Panola County Election Commission was moving through about 200 affidavit ballots Wednesday morning. About half are typically ruled a legal vote.

Griffin is expected to seek a full term in 2011 when county offices are up for re-election.

“I appreciate the citizens putting trust in me to be sheriff of the county,” Griffin, 54, said when reached Wednesday morning.

A swearing-in ceremony for Griffin is forthcoming, likely next week, after the election commission certified the election results Wednesday.

The interim sheriff and his opponent moved to the run-off election after neither clinched a majority of votes in the Nov. 2 General Election.

The Nov. 2 sheriff’s election ended a virtual dead heat, with Griffin leading Darby by 174 votes.

Both Griffin and Darby then began to canvass Panola County, aware that a run-off election rarely produces the same vote tally.

Griffin said he used volunteers from churches —  “faith-based volunteers,” he said  — to canvass communities where he had done well in the General Election, urging voters to return for the runoff.

Darby told The Panolian, days before the runoff, that his volunteers were also knocking on doors to encourage a good turnout.

Both campaigns also took advantage of absentee voting. Darby led that effort, pulling in 690 absentee ballots compared to 532 absentees counted for Griffin.

Absentee votes are tallied on election night in a tedious process. Deputy circuit clerks open each absentee ballot envelope, remove the ballot, then pass it along. Each ballot is inserted by hand into a counter that scans it. After the final absentee ballot is counted, the tally is then added to precinct totals.

A total of 1,222 absentee ballots were touched and scanned Tuesday night.

The counting of absentees lent drama to the evening’s vote count, since the candidates had been swapping leads through most of the night.

Griffin and Darby moved in and out of the circuit clerk’s office throughout the night, watching the process slowly unfold.

Absentees for Darby pushed him over 6,000 votes, moving him closer to his opponent. But Griffin had pulled ahead hours earlier, when election returns from East Sardis and North Batesville-B increased his lead by 379 votes.

Darby never caught up.  

“I just want to thank the voters for supporting me,” Darby said Wednesday morning.