Election protests filed, denied by commission
by The Press and Standard | November 22, 2018 5:00 pm
Last Updated: November 20, 2018 at 10:12 am
The members of the Colleton County Board of Voter Registration and Elections denied both protests about the Nov. 6 General Election following a nearly 90-minute public hearing held the afternoon of Nov. 19.
Darlene Miller, the incumbent Colleton County School Board member from the Fourth District who lost her re-election bid, and David Gar Linder, who lost his bid to unseat Colleton County Council At-Large Councilman Gene Whetsell, met with the board members to air their grievances.
The meeting came to a close with a vote on the protest filed by Linder.
After making a motion to deny Linder’s motion, board member L. Scott Harvin said that he had heard nothing that left him to believe that people were not able to vote and he had no doubt of the count’s accuracy. He also suggested that based on the election, he has come to the conclusion that the voting machines are preferable to voters.
Board member Mary Ann Blake said she had heard no evidence that any voter was tuned away from the polls.
Board member D. Randall Ulmer read off the vote totals for several uncontested races for county offices and then pointed to the over 13,000 votes cast in the county council at-large race, suggesting that there “was no voter suppression.”
The official tally for the county council at large race had Gene Whetsell receiving 7,128 votes (54.06 percent) to David Gar Linder’s 6,038 votes (45.79 votes).
Linder, represented in the protest hearing by attorney Dwayne Buckner, sought to have the results of the election for the at-large seat declared void and wanted the board to ask Governor Henry McMaster to order a new election. Attorney Sam Howell of Charleston, who sought in his cross-examinations to show that the problems did not affect the vote total, represented Whetsell at the hearing.
Both Linder and Miller, representing herself for her protest hearing, iled protests primarily based on the mistake that led to the voting precincts starting election day using emergency paper ballots because the electronic voting machines were not functioning properly.
The problem with the voting machines occurred when a seasonal employee mislabeled the communication cases that contained the Personal Electronic Ballot (PEB) activation devises for each of the 32 voting precincts.
For instance, the PEB devises for the Islandton voting precinct were inside the communication case sent to the Bells precinct.
Voter Registration and Elections Director Angela Upchurch was called on to testify in both protest hearings.
She was asked to explain the how and why of the mix-up and the move to remedy it by getting the right PEB devices to the right precinct.
Some of the polling places, she said, were able to get their voting machine on-line near the 7 a.m. start of voting. It took approximately four hours to have all 32 polling places back on voting machines.
In the meantime, slightly over 1,700 paper ballots were cast by voters in a mid-term election saw what she called a record turnout of over 55 percent.
Buckner also alleged that some of the mailed absentee ballots had a return envelope that contained the mailing address of the Beaufort County Board of Elections.
Upchurch said that happened. She estimated that about 10 of absentee ballots sent out had the Beaufort address.
In the 2016 election, Upchurch said, Beaufort County was running out of return envelopes and obtained a box of them from Colleton County. Beaufort election officials used a few of the envelopes and returned the unused portion of the box after the election.
Unfortunately, the Beaufort officials placed their address on some of the unused envelopes and it was not noticed when this election’s absentee ballots were mailed out.
Upchurch said seven Colleton County absentee ballots were mailed to Beaufort. Beaufort returned them all to Colleton County and they were counted.
Miller’s protest revolved around her allegation that there were insufficient paper ballots and that some voters had been turned away. Both contentions, the board suggested, were not backed by evidence.
Miller also alleged that one of her challengers allegedly was seeking votes inside the Maple Cane precinct and another posted derogatory comments about Miller on Facebook, based on misinformation about the Maple Cane incident.
Miller’s attempt to present those issues bogged down when Board Director Lynette Fryar told Miller she was responsible to insure that the Maple Cane poll clerk was there to testify. Miller thought it was the board’s responsibility.
As Miller’s case was winding down, school board candidate Alroy Headden asked to testify.
Headden, told that he could not testify about what others told him, said, “Right is right and wrong is wrong. I know that what is happening right here, right now, is wrong.”
Miller, in her protest, wrote “the whole County of Colleton election process on November 6, 2018 was disgraceful to say the least!”
In the school board race William Bowman Jr. received 404 votes (32.98 percent) with Miller collecting 377 votes (30.78 percent).
Rounding out the four-person race was Cyndi Roberts with 277 votes (22.61 percent) and Alroy Headden with 154 votes (12.57 percent).