COLUMBIA — A lawsuit Thursday asks a judge to order a runoff between the top two vote-getters in the Democratic race for South Carolina’s new 7th Congressional District, and the attorney general’s office believes the court will do just that.
Soon after the filing in Horry County, Judge Larry Hyman Jr. ordered election officials not to calibrate voting machines for the runoff or distribute runoff materials until a hearing is held June 21. That’s five days before primary runoffs, which include a face-off for the GOP nomination for U.S. House 7, which is anchored in coastal Horry County and spreads over the Pee Dee region.
The commission is notifying county election officials to ensure the order is followed, said spokesman Chris Whitmire.
The state Election Commission will decide Friday whether to call a runoff between Coastal Carolina economics professor Gloria Bromell Tinubu and attorney Preston Brittain. At issue is whether to count the votes of state Rep. Ted Vick, who withdrew May 25 following his arrest on a drunken driving charge, but remained on the ballot.
Without Vick’s more than 2,300 votes, Bromell Tinubu won the four-way race outright, with 52 percent of the vote to Brittain’s 39 percent. But five names were on the ballot. Both the Democratic Party and Brittain’s campaign argue none of the five received a majority, so a runoff is necessary; otherwise, voters are being disenfranchised, they argue.
Whitmire said Tuesday night that Vick’s votes would not count. The next day, he said Democrats’ arguments prompted the agency to seek an attorney general’s opinion.
In a letter Thursday, director Marci Andino told an attorney for the party that the commission’s long-standing policy is to not include votes cast for withdrawn candidates when calculating a majority. But she noted the commission will ultimately decide Friday afternoon as it certifies results of primaries statewide.
Attorney Morgan Martin of Conway said the lawsuit couldn’t wait until after that decision.
“We’re running on a very short time frame,” said Martin, a Brittain supporter who filed on behalf of two voters.
Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian called it a complete mess that the commission caused.
A day after saying third-world countries conduct better elections, Harpootlian said, “I not only stick by that. We’ve doubled down.”
There is no state law that addresses whether to calculate the votes of a withdrawn candidate, Deputy Attorney General Robert Cook said in his opinion. He noted he could not find any ruling on the issue in state courts either.
Since there’s been no South Carolina decision, only the courts can resolve the issue, Cook wrote.
However, he concluded, “We believe a court would conclude that Mr. Vick’s votes would count for the limited purpose of determining a majority in the primary. In our best judgment, a court would conclude that such votes may not be thrown away completely.”
He pointed to opinions issued by the attorney general’s office in 1959 and 1966 that votes for those who die or are disqualified after ballots are printed should be counted in determining the election’s results. He also pointed to cases in Louisiana.
Brommell Tinubu’s campaign manager had no comment, other than to say she believes people should fully exercise their rights, and that includes filing lawsuits.
Bromell Tinubu was not the choice of the party’s establishment. The 59-year-old former Atlanta city councilwoman resigned her seat in the Georgia Legislature in December after moving back to her family home in Georgetown County.
Days after Vick withdrew, top Democrats called a news conference to endorse 32-year-old Brittain of Myrtle Beach, including U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn.
The director of the state Republican Party, Matt Moore, on Wednesday accused Harpootlian and Columbia insiders of “trying to steal the nomination from Gloria Tinubu,” after getting egg on their face with the endorsement.
But Harpootlian called that nonsense, saying the party is only trying to ensure voters aren’t disenfranchised.
Republicans “need to take a deep breath and some medication, and go home and let us try to resolve this in a legal fashion,” he said.