Final bill for Aiken County Council chairman election almost $47,000

Gary Bunker

The special general election to fill the Aiken County Council chairman’s post cost taxpayers $46,891.75, according to the county Board of Elections.

 

That’s $19.20 per vote for all 2,442 votes cast in the Oct. 24 election, including 202 write-ins.

The law required the general election even though Gary Bunker already had won the Republican primary with 55 percent of the vote and had no opposition. It gives voters a chance to write in candidates, who then have a chance to be chosen by a majority over those whose names are on the ballot, according to elections officials and legislators.

In this race, however, voters chose Bunker by a 10-1 margin.

Starting Jan. 1, this kind of election will become more common in South Carolina. The legislature passed a law in the last session that closed a loophole that allowed a special election to be skipped if only one candidate had filed to seek an office when the filing deadline passed.

“They’re all going to be held,” Chris Whitmire of the state Elections Commission said last week.

Vacancies, such as the one caused by the resignation of state Rep. Chris Corley of Aiken after he was charged in December with domestic violence, often cause a domino effect of special elections as people who already hold office run for higher open seats.

Ronnie Young resigned as county council chairman after winning Corley’s vacant District 84 post. Then two county council members – Andrew Siders and Chuck Smith – ran for Young’s old job. Had either of them won, a special election to fill a vacant seat on council would have been required.

It takes 300-400 poll workers to man 84 precincts in a countywide election, according to the county Board of Elections. Each gets $60 for attending pre-election training and a stipend of $75 for working on election day. That’s $135 per worker – a total of $40,500 for 300 workers; $54,000 for 400.

Then there’s the cost of printing the ballots and placing required legal advertisements. Even if elections aren’t countywide, the costs of holding more of them could add up.

State Rep. Bill Hixon and Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey said legislators were advised the special election exemption in the current law – Section E – was unconstitutional. The state Attorney General issued an opinion to that effect as far back as 2004, Whitmire said.

Section E was added in 2003 and by deleting it, the legislature was “taking it back to traditional way,” said Rep. Laurie Funderburk of Kershaw County, who sponsored the bill.

“It was in direct contravention to the constitution of South Carolina,” she said. “Voters have a right to write in anybody they want.”

On March 29, the House voted 84-23 to adopt it. William Clyburn, Bart Blackwell and Bill Taylor voted for it; Hixon voted against it. Corley had been suspended from the House by then and Young had not yet won the seat.

The Senate – including Massey, Tom Young and Nikki Setzler – amended the bill and approved it 38-0 on May 2.

It went back to the House, where it passed again 101-1. Hixon voted for it, but Clyburn, Blackwell and Taylor did not vote. The lone “nay” vote came from Rep. Todd K. Atwater of Lexington County.

Special election exemption in current law

2017 Act No. 15, Section 2, deletes Subsection (E) of state election law regarding special elections (Section 7-13-190), effective Jan. 1, 2018.

Subsection E’s provisions were:

(E)(1) A special election to fill a vacancy in an office is not required to be conducted if 14 calendar days have elapsed since the filing period for that office has closed and:

(a) only one person has filed for the office; and

(b) no person has filed a declaration to be a write-in candidate with the authority charged by law with conducting the election.

(2) In such an event, the candidate who filed for the office is deemed elected and shall take office on the Monday following certification.

(3) The provisions of this subsection also apply to municipal general elections.

When no person has filed a declaration to be a write-in candidate pursuant to this section, the candidate who filed for the office must be declared the winner by the authority charged by law with conducting the election, and the votes for the election must not be counted or otherwise tabulated. Nothing in this section requires a ballot containing the name of a person who has been declared the winner pursuant to this section to be reprinted to delete the winning candidate’s name or candidates’ names from the ballot.

Here is how the Senate amended the House-passed version of the new bill that deleted Subsection E. Words that were struck through by senators are shown here in parentheses:

SECTION 1. Section 7-13-190(B) of the 1976 Code is amended to read:

“(B)(1) In partisan elections, whether seeking nomination by political party primary or political party convention, filing by these candidates shall open for the office at twelve o’clock noon on the third Friday after the vacancy occurs for a period to close (ten) eight days later at twelve o’clock noon. If seeking nomination by petition, the petitions must be submitted not later than twelve o’clock noon, sixty days prior to the election. Verification of these petitions must be made not later than twelve o’clock noon forty-five days prior to the election. If seeking nomination by political party primary or political party convention, filing with the appropriate official is the same as provided in Section 7-11-15 and if seeking nomination by petition, filing with the appropriate official is the same as provided in Section 7-11-70.

(2) A primary must be held on the eleventh Tuesday after the vacancy occurs. A runoff primary must be held on the thirteenth Tuesday after the vacancy occurs. The special election must be on the (eighteenth) twentieth Tuesday after the vacancy occurs. If the (eighteenth) twentieth Tuesday after the vacancy occurs is no more than sixty days prior to the general election, the special election shall must be held on the same day as the general election. If the filing period closes on a state holiday, then filing must be held open through the succeeding weekday. If the date for an election falls on a state holiday, it the election must be set for the next succeeding Tuesday. For purposes of this section, state holiday does not mean the general election day.”

 

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