A long row of signs giving Amherst County residents plenty of options lined Monelison Middle School as a steady stream of voters around 9 a.m. Tuesday headed in to cast their votes in a full slate of local and state races.
The race that gathered much attention was the hotly contested race for Amherst sheriff. E.W. Viar, who has served since 2016, looked to remain in office with opposition from three former Amherst sheriff’s deputies — Noel De Palma, Luciano Freitas and George Lee.
In 2015, Viar won 64.9% of the vote in a three-way race that saw 7,897 votes cast, according to the Virginia Department of Elections. Scott Johnson, a county native, said he backed Viar in a race he described as a “little messy” in the mudslinging and finger-pointing.
Johnson said he’d rather hear what the candidates can do for the residents rather than speaking negatively about each other. “This year was a little sloppy,” he said, adding he couldn’t recall it ever being so high in a race for sheriff in all his years voting in the county.
A father of three kids, he said he doesn’t want them growing up in a drug-infested county and he feels Viar is tackling that problem head on. “I think he’s done a lot to slow that process down,” Johnson said of drug activity.
De Palma, who ran as a Republican and was dismissed in March after informing Viar he was running against him, greeted voters outside Monelison Tuesday. He said he believes he ran a clean campaign.
“That distracts from the real issues,” De Palma said of the negative tone surrounding the sheriff’s race.
County resident William Robertson said he is sticking with Viar and spoke of the importance of keeping drugs out of the reach of the county’s youth.
“To me he’s been doing a good job,” Robertson said.
Pat and Bruce Cook said they were solidly backing the Republican party in all races and firmly support President Donald Trump. Pat Cook described the ongoing impeachment inquiry against Trump as “a shame.”
“The man hasn’t done anything and the world is a better place,” she said of his presidency.
Bruce Cook said Trump is doing much good for the economy and creating jobs. “We believe in Trump,” Pat Cook said. “Trump excites us.”
John Ingram said he came to the precinct to support the Democratic Party and hoped the state legislature could flip from red to blue in favor of Democratic leadership.
“Turnout looks great to me,” Ingram said of observing the stream of voters. “This is a big deal for our state, for both the Senate and the delegates.”
Amherst County election officials reported significant increases in absentee voting heading into Tuesday’s election. Amherst County Registrar Fran Brown said 427 absentee votes were submitted compared to 247 ballots in 2015 when a full slate of local races were on the ballot.
Kathy Massie, chief of the Madison precinct at Monelison, said the voting was steady all morning. “And going smoothly, thank goodness. That’s always a plus,” Massie said.
The town of Amherst also had a special election for a vacant town council seat that came about this summer with the removal of one of its members, Janice Wheaton. At its July 10 meeting, council expelled Wheaton on a 4-1 vote, with herself opposed, following a closed session and a reason was not given.
Wheaton, who won the seat in the November 2018 election, ran again and no one else filed by deadline. However, Mike Driskill, a resident of the town for the past 28 years and a retired quality manager at Glad Manufacturing in Amherst, said he was running as a late write-in candidate.
Driskill, a member of the Amherst County Republican Committee, described himself as a fiscal conservative, willing to learn and easy to get along with. He said he believes Amherst town voters should have a choice and that’s why he is running as a late candidate.
Another contested race included Ginger Burg and Charlotte Fluharty running for an at-large seat on the Amherst County School Board. In unopposed races, Jimmy Ayers and David Pugh ran to keep their seats on the county board of supervisors while newcomer Tom Martin ran for the District 1 seat; for school board, incumbents Amanda Wright and Priscilla Liggon and newcomers John Grieser and Christopher Terry ran; and Commonwealth’s Attorney Lyle Carver, Commissioner of the Revenue Jane Irby and Treasurer Joanne Carden also were on the ballot.
Joe Girandola, who came to the Monelison precinct to vote with his children in tow, said the previous night he observed Viar help an elderly woman to her car at Walmart in Madison Heights. The act impressed him and is the type of thing he would do himself.
“You need to have strong people with strong character who are supporting the community,” Girandola said.
Reach Justin Faulconer at (434) 385-5551.