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Column: Can’t recount if somebody burns ballots
Johnny Vardeman

With all the suspicion around mail-in ballots and other forms of voting in this year’s elections, there hasn’t been a case of ballots being destroyed minutes after counting them. 

That happened in Hall County in 1914 during a state senate race. 

Ernest Palmour, J.O. Adams and S.K. Christopher ran in the Democratic primary for the Senate District 33 seat, which included Hall. Adams and Palmour were the two more prominent candidates, both having served together as state representatives from Hall. 

Now they were facing each other in a somewhat heated contest for the higher legislative office. Although they had served together in the Georgia House, they sometimes had squared off against each other on certain legislation. 

After the polls closed on election night in August 1914, Palmour went to dinner ahead by five votes. When he returned, Adams had won by three votes. Palmour certainly would have wanted a recount, but he discovered all the ballots had burned except those from the Gainesville precinct. 

The final vote was Adams, 1,366; Palmour, 1,363; and Christopher, 761. Palmour’s supporters encouraged him to demand a recount, but if the ballots were missing, there couldn’t be one.  

Suggestions for a new election apparently fell on deaf ears. Anyway, Adams was on the ballot for the November election, and no Republican or any other candidate opposed him. 

It wasn’t explained why the ballots were burned so soon after they had been counted. That had never happened before in an election. 

Palmour had served several terms in the legislature and later served again as a state representative. His son, J. Ernest Palmour Jr., also later served in the legislature and was a longtime Gainesville city attorney.


No merge 

Over the years, people have asked why Hall and Gainesville don’t consolidate into a city-county as Athens-Clarke County did in 1990. The same question comes up about Gainesville and Hall County schools. Both of those issues have gotten shot down, and nothing lately, at least publicly, has been heard about them. 

There was a serious study two decades ago about the city and county merging. It went so far as the University of Georgia Carl Vinson Institute looking in-depth into the issue. 

Hall’s population has doubled since 1997, when the study was conducted. If the city and county had merged, then it would have been the fifth largest government in the state. 

During the university study, a local task force formed to provide feedback and offer opinions on the findings. It was a creation of Georgia’s General Assembly and action was required within a few months of the law’s passage.  

If the task force voted to move forward, voters would be asked to approve a charter study commission, which if it approved, a merged government proposal would be put to a vote by the people. 

The merger would cost $410,000 to implement, and the study estimated it would save $1.5 million by consolidating services and departments. It also would reduce water rates for those living outside Gainesville city limits. The consultants said a Hall-Gainesville merger would go better than the Athens-Clarke consolidation. 

The city and county school systems wouldn’t be affected and could remain separate. 

Nevertheless, none of that ever happened. The local task force voted 9-6 not to create a charter commission, meaning a detailed concrete consolidation proposal wouldn’t go before the voters. 

Those opposing the merger mostly favored merging services between city and county rather than a wholesale consolidation. Some of those services have merged, although a few have since returned to separate operations. 

Opponents also complained there were too many unanswered questions. Supporters argued that the task force was taking the matter out of the hands of the voters, who should have the opportunity to decide on Gainesville and Hall’s future. 

There also was criticism on how the county’s other cities would fare under a merger, and that a lack of interest was shown by low attendance at the task force’s public meetings.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770-532-2326; email, or His column publishes weekly.

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