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Berrien holds two elections for sheriff

July 07,2016 14:12

A special election to fill the unexpired term of former Berrien County Sheriff Anthony Heath will be held the same day the general election is held, including the “regular” sheriff's election for the new term starting Jan. 1, Berrien County Elections ...



NASHVILLE — Voters in Berrien County head to the polls Nov. 8 to elect a sheriff — twice.A special election to fill the unexpired term of former Berrien County Sheriff Anthony Heath will be held the same day the general election is held, including the “regular” sheriff’s election for the new term starting Jan. 1, Berrien County Elections Supervisor Melanie Ray said Wednesday.“It’s definitely something we’ve never seen before,” she said.
Heath pleaded guilty last month to two counts of violating the civil rights of two non-resistant suspects by using excessive force against them, according to a justice department press release. Heath’s plea agreement states that a potential sentence on each count could bring up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines. No sentencing date has been set.Berrien County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Ray Paulk took over Heath’s responsibilities, County Commissioner Steve Sumner said.Qualifying has not started yet for the non-partisan special election, Ray said. The special election will chose a sheriff to fulfill the remaining weeks of Heath’s term, which ends Dec. 31.On the other hand, qualifying has been under way for a while for the “regular” sheriff’s election, and five candidates are on the ballot. Including Heath, who won the Republican primary in May before he was removed from office.Ray said the Berrien County elections board anticipates Heath being removed from the ballot, either by his efforts or by a special meeting of the board. A citizen’s challenge is also possible, she said.
“There are several different scenarios that can play out,” Ray said.The other four challengers for the “regular” sheriff’s election are Democratic primary winner Ben Davis and independents Rick Brown, Frank Swanson and Chief Deputy Paulk, she said. Paulk and Swanson qualified last week, while Brown qualified in March, Ray said.Complicating Berrien’s elections landscape even more is the question: What happens if the special election results in a runoff?Ray said a runoff election would be held Dec. 6 — less than a month before the current sheriff’s term expires and the winner of the “regular” election takes office.Paulk, as interim sheriff, will hold office until the winner of the special election can take office.

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