Gila County faced one of its most wide-open, high-stakes primary seasons in decades on Tuesday, but Northern Gila County voters mostly stayed home.
With the board of supervisors, county attorney and sheriff’s offices up for grabs, turnout in the north ranged from 10 to 24 percent in most precincts. In the south, about a third of voters cast a ballot.
The turnout differential proved decisive in a host of races that North County advocates had hoped would finally end South County’s long monopoly on political power.
The sole North County success proved the Republican primary victory of sheriff’s candidate Adam Shepherd, who handily won an expensive, contentious struggle with Darrell Stubbs. Shepherd will now face Democrat Craig Jones in the general election.
The most consequential loss came with the third-place finish of District 3 candidate Ronnie McDaniel, who many had hoped would break Globe’s long stranglehold on the board of supervisors. Instead, he finished behind Globe businessman John Marcanti and Marvin Mull Jr. of San Carlos. At press time, Mull remained about 28 votes behind, making a recount likely.
Whoever wins that count-off will claim the seat, since no Republican ran.
The biggest surprise of the night came when challenger Bradley Beauchamp unseated District Attorney Daisy Flores. Both of the candidates live in Globe, but Flores won most of the northern precincts. However, the election was decided in Globe where Flores faced fierce criticism for not pursuing murder charges in several controversial killings.
In most other primary races, the voting patterns varied starkly between the Republican-dominated north and the Democratic-dominated south. However, the paltry turnout in the north doomed most candidates supported here to defeat, although North County now has a majority of the population and pays 70 percent of the county taxes.
Payson resident Max Feezor fell far short in his effort to unseat longtime incumbent Sadie Jo Tomerlin, thanks in large measure to the dramatic difference in turnout between the north and south.
Payson resident Deborah Hughes did win her Republican primary, but now will try to unseat longtime incumbent Dale Hom in the general election.
The fizzle capped years of effort in North County to gain a measure of political equality with the south. Many advocates for the north thought the turn of the tide had finally come with the adoption this year of a redistricting plan, which created one solidly northern seat held by incumbent District 1 Supervisor Tommie Martin, one solidly southern seat held by incumbent District 2 Supervisor Mike Pastor and one swing seat, which retiring incumbent Shirley Dawson left open.
However, expectation turned to frustration with the last-minute emergence of both a Globe candidate and a San Carlos candidate to challenge McDaniel in the Democratic primary.
Supervisor Martin said about 1,600 ballots remain uncounted countywide — or about 15 percent of the total vote cast. Mostly, that consists of mail-in ballots voters turned in at the polls. Those ballots need to be hand-checked against voter rolls, to be sure no one voted twice.
About 100 provisional ballots also remained uncounted, said Martin, which consists of ballots cast in the wrong polling place or ballots cast by someone whose name didn’t show up on the precinct list.
Those uncounted ballots could still tip the balance in some close-fought races, like the District 3 supervisorial contest.