After a lengthy meeting, Horry County Republican Party leaders on Thursday overwhelmingly voted to uphold the results of last week’s primary after hearing protests from two local candidates.
A third candidate withdrew her protest before the meeting.
The local party’s executive committee heard protests from Horry County Clerk of Court candidate Angie Altman-Robbins and Horry County Council District 6 candidate Jeremy Halpin, who were both defeated in last week's primary, in a courtroom at the Horry County Government and Justice Center in Conway.
Both protests were rejected. Forty-four votes were cast in each case Thursday.
Altman-Robbins lost the clerk of court race to incumbent Renee Elvis by nearly 11,000 votes and Halpin lost to councilman Cam Crawford by 576 votes.
Horry County Council District 3 candidate Karon Mitchell also filed a protest, but Dreama Perdue, co-chair of the Horry County Republican Party, said Thursday that Mitchell’s protest had been withdrawn. Mitchell lost to Horry County Councilman Dennis DiSabato by 444 votes.
Thursday’s proceeding lasted roughly two hours and often saw yelling, disputes over proper procedures and several questions be asked by executive committee members.
All three local protests raised concerns about voters receiving the wrong ballots on election day. Elections officials said some voters in split precincts — polling locations serving more than one county council or state office district — received the incorrect ballots. Officials don’t believe the problem was widespread, but they have said they aren’t sure how many people were affected.
“It wasn’t countywide,” said Sandy Martin, the head of the county elections office, on Thursday, “and it wasn’t every precinct, but there were a few that got wrong ballots.”
Before executive committee members voted on the two cases, attorney Reese Boyd said the basis for each decision was whether the outcome of an election should be overturned.
“If you’re going to reverse it or overturn it or ask that it be redone, there’s got to be sufficient evidence … that would say the outcome that’s been reported from the election was not correct.”
Boyd said the U.S. Supreme Court has stated that a citizen is not entitled to a perfect election.
“Elections are complex undertakings,” he said.
Altman-Robbins said she filed her protest due to suspected problems with the voting system.
“I believe that there were inaccuracies due to the machines being jammed and possibly absentee ballots not being tallied properly,” she said. “To speak to the protest, I think it just has to do with problems in the voting system in general. … If one vote has been counted incorrectly, that’s one vote too many in my opinion.”
Elvis said she was not notified of Altman-Robbins’ protest ahead of the deadline earlier this week.
“I feel like the election was done properly,” she said.
Martin read an email she sent to Halpin that stated: “There were some instances where people were given the wrong ballot.”
Elvis pointed out, though, that the race for the clerk of court was countywide — meaning all ballots would have had the names of both her and her opponent.
Halpin said his protest came about after a number of issues were brought to his attention concerning the election process since last week’s primary. He hoped to prevent further problems in the future.
“This isn’t about me versus Cam,” he said. “If the votes aren’t there, so be it. But I believe that the votes could potentially be there.”
Reading a letter he had submitted, Halpin said there were multiple polling locations with cross district voting that caused confusion and incorrect ballots to be given to Horry County voters.
“People expect a level of confidence when they go into the polling location that they are in the right place and that they were given the correct ballot with the correct names in their district to vote for,” he said.
But, Halpin added, because of a lack of experienced poll workers and proper training, that did not happen.
“During my whole campaign, I was trying to shine the light on the people that I felt were forgotten and not being represented,” he said, “and that’s what I’m trying to do here with this whole election process.”
Halpin said a voter might not be aware of which district they live in and subsequently vote for a county councilman who represents another district.
“The poll workers should be the last line of defense to make sure that the person voting is in the correct district,” he said. “I hate to say it, but I felt that it was a primary election that isn’t valid.”
Speaking on behalf of Crawford, lawyer Michael Anzelmo said a protestor must show, through evidence or witness testimony, that irregularities are so great that they would overturn the margin of victory.
He added voters have the responsibility of making sure they have the correct ballots and one can cast a provisional ballot if there is an issue.
Halpin did not call any witnesses and said he did not have any signed affidavits of people saying they received wrong ballots.
While he agreed to an extent that voters should be responsible for having the correct ballots, Halpin said the onus is ultimately on poll workers and the local government to ensure each person is given the right one.
“Otherwise we’re opening ourselves up for voter fraud,” he said.
To the applause of those in attendance, Martin praised poll workers, who she called “the backbone of this system.”
“We could not do an election without the poll workers,” she said, “and they have a hard day and they work hard. And I hate to see them when we get in here and people are downing them. It’s just not right.”
While Martin admitted “there are things in the system that need fixing,” she said there are safeguards in place regarding what one can do if they receive a wrong ballot.
“If one person says they got the wrong ballot, everybody’s got one,” Martin said, “especially on Facebook.”
A protest filed by S.C. Senate District 33 candidate Carter Smith was sent to the state Republican Party, which will decide how to handle that case. In that race — in which incumbent state Sen. Luke Rankin, R-Myrtle Beach, and challenger John Gallman are set to meet in a runoff next week — Smith finished in third place behind Gallman by more than 1,200 votes.