Horry County Council incumbents swept Tuesday’s Republican Primary, all but assuring there will be just one new face on council next year.
Council members Cam Crawford, Dennis DiSabato, Danny Hardee and Gary Loftus each defeated primary challengers, according to unofficial results. With no Democratic opposition in November, they are set to keep their seats.
“We can keep on doing what we’ve been doing,” said councilman Gary Loftus, who earned his fourth term by taking 65% of the vote in his race against journalist Ian Guerin. Loftus said he plans to focus on improving public safety services over the next four years. He added that while some challengers criticized the county's response to flooding, council members have strengthened stormwater regulations and many developments that have flooding problems were built before those codes were created.
"We've got them now," he said. "And we're holding people's feet to the fire, in spite of what you might hear."
Crawford and Hardee could not immediately be reached late Tuesday.
DiSabato, who won his second term, said he aims to work with county staff to build a county government complex in Carolina Forest, including a new police precinct. He also hopes to lay the groundwork for constructing an interchange connecting Augusta Plantation Drive, Revolutionary War Way and S.C. 31.
"I'm obviously very happy and humbled," he said. "Ecstatic to have another four years to represent the residents of District 3."
DiSabato defeated Myrtle Beach native Karon Mitchell, a former middle school teacher and hotelier, by claiming 60% of the vote. Crawford topped former bartender and mortgage lender Jeremy Halpin by a comfortable margin (Crawford received 62% of the vote) and Hardee easily kept his seat by taking 73% of the vote in his race with Loris High band director Stephen Whisnant.
In the District 9 race — the only one without an incumbent running — there will be a runoff in two weeks between Mark Causey and Terry Fowler.
Causey, a real estate agent, received the most votes (1,343), but it wasn’t enough to secure a runoff-proof majority. Fowler, a retired police officer, received 1,071 votes while outgoing Horry County Councilman Paul Prince’s son Rome came in third with 780 votes and Marshall Russell finished last with 130.
In the Horry County Clerk of Court Republican Primary, incumbent Renee Elvis handily defeated challenger Angie Altman-Robbins. Elvis received 65% of the vote.
There will be a runoff in the race for Horry County auditor.
Assistant deputy auditor Beth Calhoun received the most votes (14,010) Tuesday, but not enough to avoid a runoff with the county’s deputy treasurer RA Johnson (12,354 votes). Accountant Clark Parker finished a distant third (8,118 votes). The winner will replace longtime auditor Lois Eargle, who is not seeking another term.
Runoffs will be June 23.
In the S.C. State House primaries, incumbents Heather Ammons Crawford, R-Socastee, Kevin Hardee, R-Loris, and Alan Clemmons, R-Myrtle Beach, prevailed.
"It is the expression of the people of District 107 and I'm grateful to once again have the confidence of my constituents to return to Columbia and represent them to the best of my abilities," said Clemmons, who defeated attorney Case Brittain. Ammons Crawford bested U.S. Army veteran Mark Epps in her race and Hardee defeated former newspaper publisher Steve Robertson.
Clemmons stayed at the elections office in Conway late Tuesday trying to get answers about why the votes took so long to count.
Tuesday’s primary results were delayed for hours as elections officials struggled with technical problems, poll worker errors and tallying the results from thousands of absentee ballots that were submitted amid COVID-19 concerns. The Racepath 1 precinct in Conway was not included in the final totals, but that precinct’s 212 votes will not change the outcome of any races.
Dena Huggins, a supervisor with the county elections office, said Racepath 1 had an issue where a poll worker removed a flash drive before the votes were accounted for.
Local elections office staffers had been in talks with state elections officials until close to midnight Tuesday and Huggins said she hopes to have all of the Racepath 1 precinct’s issues resolved by Wednesday afternoon.
Those weren't the only primary problems Tuesday.
In at least four precincts, elections office staff received complaints about the wrong ballots being distributed to voters. The issue is that some precincts provide ballots for more than one county council district. For example, a precinct might accept voters from Horry County Council Districts 3 and 4, which border each other. That means the poll workers would have separate ballots for not only Republicans and Democrats but also for the voters in different districts. In the Adrian precinct, which is located at the Academy for Technology and Academics, voters come from three council districts: 7, 11 and 10.
“This is why we try to get away from split districts,” said Sandy Martin, executive director of the Horry County Voter Registration and Elections Office. “Because we always have this.”
Another challenge, Martin said, is that this is the first election with these ballot styles.
“It is very confusing,” she said. “[Poll workers] were trained, but you know they get in and they get nervous. … This is a whole different way of doing it from what we’ve done for years and years.”
The elections office had primarily received complaints about wrong ballots being distributed in the Myrtle Beach and Socastee communities, though candidates and voters raised issues about ballots in the Conway and Loris areas.
Martin said about 50 precincts have more than one council district voting there. She was unsure exactly how many precincts and voters received the wrong ballots on Tuesday, but she didn’t have any indication that the problem was widespread.
If voters notice a problem with their ballot, she said, they should alert poll workers at that time, not call later.
“There’s nothing we can do once they’re already gone,” she said.
Many local voters opted for absentee ballots this year.
Spurred by concerns about COVID-19, state lawmakers allowed “no excuse” absentee voting, meaning those who wanted to cast an absentee ballot did not have to meet one of the criteria they are typically required to hit to qualify for that option.
As of Tuesday afternoon, county elections staff had received about 7,000 absentee ballots by mail and about 2,500 people had voted absentee in person at the elections office.