A small-town sheriff’s race made statewide headlines after Madison County Sheriff Roger Thompson was charged with misconduct, felony perjury, and felony evidence tampering.
Thompson was running unopposed until Undersheriff Phil Fortner stepped in as a write-in candidate.
Fortner won the top seat with 54% of the votes. Thompson garnered 37%.
Fortner explained that due to “certain developments” in the sheriff’s office over the last few years, he felt compelled to run, saying “someone needed to step up and… start moving things in a positive direction.”
Fortner is a 21-year veteran of the force. He says he didn’t run because of any personal issues with Thompson. Instead, “it was a matter of integrity,” he emphasizes, “and the future of our sheriff’s office. And standing up for everyone that’s worked here before me and every sheriff that’s held the office before us.”
Fortner thanks the people who made his victory possible, along with anyone who supported the sheriff's office through its tumultuous last few months. He especially credited friend Mindy Schroeder, who he said was in charge of setting up his campaign website, social media, and other support efforts.
Fortner's community certainly backed him up throughout his month of campaigning.
Notoriously, write-in efforts are uphill battles. With write-in votes, voters first need to be aware that a write-in candidate is running, then they must remember to write in the full name, and spell it out correctly in order for it to be counted. Even forgetting to fill in the bubble next to the write-in blank can void the vote.
To address the difficulties, Fortner’s friends sent out mailers with attachable labels for residents to put on the write-in spot so that voters could “write-in” the name correctly. They also made signs and a newspaper ad explaining how to write-in Fortner’s name on the ballot.
The entire sheriff’s office, including administrative staff, signed a public letter urging Madison County residents to write-in for Fortner, crediting his “integrity,” “credibility,” “and “high standards.”
In the end, nearly 2,400 people successfully wrote-in Fortner’s name.
Fortner’s campaign began after Thompson pleaded not guilty to all charges last month. The allegations stem from a controlled heroin buy last summer.
Prosecutors say Thompson failed to log the evidence taken from an informant before the buy. A Madison County deputy told investigators the meth and heroin were taken and photographed, then given to Thompson. Later, the evidence could not be located.
Thompson’s next court date hasn’t been publicized.
Fortner has served as acting sheriff since Thompson was suspended in September, but he’ll officially take over the reins on January 1, 2019.