Kennesaw council race still too close to call

Nov. 10—Two days after Election Day, the race to fill an open seat on the Kennesaw City Council remains too close to call, with just 17 votes separating the top two candidates.

As of Thursday afternoon, Madelyn Orochena led the race with 1,629 votes, or 18.13%. In second place was Lynette Burnette with 1,612 votes, or 17.94%.

The special election attracted seven candidates looking to replace former Councilman James "Doc" Eaton, who resigned his seat in June over the reopening of controversial Confederate-themed shop Wildman's in downtown Kennesaw.

Under the city code, a candidate only has to win the most votes — not a majority — to be elected to the council. But the slim margin between candidates, combined with the number of outstanding ballots in Cobb, means that the result is not yet clear.

No candidate ran away with it in Kennesaw — all of the candidates received 10% or more of the vote. As of Thursday afternoon, behind Orochena and Burnette, were Jason Acree (13.71%), Anthony Gutierrez (13.69%), David Blinkhorn (13.58%), Daniel Bowie (12.09%) and Jon Fred Bothers (10.86%).

"I'm feeling good," Orochena told the Journal Thursday. "But with it being so close, I'm just waiting till they officially tell us that all the votes have been counted."

Burnette likewise told the MDJ she was "just anxiously waiting."

Outstanding ballots

According to Cobb elections, 611 provisional ballots were cast countywide during early voting and on Election Day. Provisional ballots are cast when a voter's eligibility cannot be determined at the polls — in order for the vote to be counted, the voter must present documentation proving their eligibility within three days of the election.

Due to an error where Cobb elections failed to mail out more than 1,000 absentee ballots on time, a court order was issued that allowed impacted voters more time to return their ballot — they can be received until next Monday. Of that group, 127 have been received and 396 are still outstanding.

There are also up to 350 overseas and military ballots that had yet to be returned to Cobb elections by Election Day. The deadline for those to arrive and be counted is Monday.

Finally, Cobb elections rejected 709 absentee ballots for errors — voters have three days after the election to "cure" their ballot by correcting the error. Of that group, 164 have been resubmitted with cures (but not processed or counted), and the remaining 545 are outstanding.

Outstanding ballots will be processed and counted Monday, Elections Director Janine Eveler said, before the Cobb Board of Elections certifies the election Tuesday.

It's not clear how many of the outstanding ballots belong to voters who live in Kennesaw — just 4.3% of Cobb Countians live in the city.

But in the provisional ballot category alone, about 27 were cast by voters in the Kennesaw city limits, Eveler said — enough to swing the election.

Kennesaw council members are elected citywide. The council election so far has seen 8,985 ballots cast.

The candidates

Orochena is a first-time candidate, but served two years as chair of the city's Arts and Culture Commission. She ran on a platform of supporting the arts and downtown development, and wants to improve pedestrian safety, walkability and affordability in the city.

The divisive issue of Wildman's Civil War Surplus Store continuing to operate in the heart of downtown was what precipitated Eaton's resignation. In the months since, residents have continued to debate the issue — Councilwoman Tracey Viars recently said the city is more divided than at any time since she moved there in 1995.

When the MDJ polled the candidates on the issue of Wildman's ahead of the election, Orochena took the strongest stance against the store.

"That was the No. 1 issue by far that people were asking me about," Orochena said. "... I was really glad that people voted their values, I guess, on that issue."

Orochena has floated ideas such as local legislation that would "ban the sale of items symbolic of hate groups," or "restrict the display of such items to only accredited museums with nonprofit status."

"I really want to focus on trying to do what we can to show that that is not representative of the way we feel as a city," she said.

Burnette did not list contact information on her qualifying paperwork, and the Journal was not able to reach her when polling the candidates in October. Reached by phone Thursday, Burnette said she was waiting for final results, but was not available for a more extensive interview about her candidacy and the issues.