flo.rankin@gaflnews.com



TIFTON -- A special election will be held March 18 to fill the seat left vacant by Tift County Commissioner J.R. Rowe, who died Wednesday.

The commission called for the election at a meeting Friday, citing a short time frame left to arrange for an election in March. Under state law, called elections may be held on only four specified dates during the year. The next available date would have been in June, leaving the commission with six members until the July meeting.

Because of requirements governing the length of time between when an election is called and the actual election, the decision had to be made in time to advertise the election by Sunday if the election was to be in March.

"I regret that we have to meet this morning," Chairman Buddy Bryan said. "I only knew J.R. Rowe for a short time, but I found him to be genuinely concerned about his district and Tift County.

"He's going to be missed."

Board of Elections members attended the commission's meeting and convened their own meeting minutes later to officially call for the election.

Elections Chairman Hugh Lewis told commissioners there is no one in Tift County trained to program the new Diebold voting machines, which were used for the first time in November.

Diebold is under contract to program the machines for scheduled elections through the presidential election in 2004, but no arrangements have been made for special elections. Plans are for someone from Tift County to be trained to program the machines after that.

"The state has furnished the machines," Lewis said. "We have no idea what the cost (of the special election) will be. But the only choice we have is to go to Diebold."

The county commission approved Charlotte Bedell's motion to cover the expense of having Diebold program the machines.

The qualifying period for the District 3 seat will be from 9 a.m. Monday through noon Wednesday at the Board of Elections office, located in the old gym at the corner of Chesnutt Avenue and Fourth Street. District 3 covers parts of Brookfield, Eldorado, Docia and Omega.

Anyone not already registered to vote may vote in the special election by registering before the close of business on Tuesday.



To contact city editor Florence Rankin, call 382-4321, ext. 209.



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