AIKEN - When the day of the GOP primary dawns Aug. 12, state Rep. Rudy Mason, R-Aiken, will have run his third election campaign in as many years.
Although Mr. Mason has not changed districts since he won his first election to public office against Democratic incumbent Irene Rudnick in 1994, his district has changed considerably since then.
Now consolidated into a triangle that includes most of the city of Aiken and portions of Graniteville, District 81 no longer stretches to the Edgefield County line, nor does it include the village of Warrenville proper, as it did on his first election day.
This latest election is needed because a three-judge federal panel threw out six state house districts in September 1996. The primary will decide the Republican candidate for the November special election.
In 1994, the district was newly redrawn by order of the U.S. Department of Justice to allow for additional black majority districts. The result was a split in the city of Aiken, with sections on the north side of the city aligned with portions of Edgefield County to make up District 82, now represented by Democrat William Clyburn.
Shortly after the 1996 elections, however, federal courts ruled that race could not be the major factor in reapportionment and District 82 was ordered redrawn. That decision affected every S.C. House District in Aiken County but radically altered only District 81.
A special election also is being held in District 82, but Mr. Clyburn faces no opposition.
"(The new District 81) is more of a metropolitan area," said Mr. Mason, an Aiken insurance agent.
"It's not as stretched out but more compact. I can walk my district now, whereas before it would take me all day to drive it," he said.
Mr. Mason's opponent in the Republican primary is newcomer Rebekah Sutherland, who also has been out walking in the district.
"I took the advantage of the July Fourth holiday to visit with the people in my neighborhood and I walked Aiken Mall during the fireworks display," she said.
The winner of the primary will face Democrat Brian Lisk, a University of South Carolina-Aiken student and a political newcomer.
Though the race is on and both candidates have hit the campaign trail, Mr. Mason said it is clear that many residents of the newly drawn district are not aware that they live within its boundaries and are eligible to vote.
"I met a friend of mine who lives in Gem Lakes and reminded him to vote in the Aug. 12 primary but he didn't realize that he's in my district," Mr. Mason said.
All of Gem Lakes now lies within District 81 as do the following subdivisions: Southwood, Woodside, Creekside, Beaver Creek, River Bluff and Crosland Park. The district also includes Hunting Hills Road and Silver Bluff Road to just past Herndon Dairy Road, the city of Aiken, and Precinct 16 in Graniteville.
Aiken County Elections Director Denton Johnson noted that District 81 contains a number of split precincts, such as Warrenville Precinct 41, with only 78 of 1,054 registered voters eligible to vote in the special primary.
"Anybody who is not sure whether he or she can vote in the primary can call the voter registration office at 642-1528 and find out," Mr. Johnson said.
Here are the voting precincts for the House District 81 race:
Aiken 1Aiken 2Aiken 3Aiken 5Aiken 6
College Acres 13Graniteville 16Millbrook 20Montmorenci 22 (Will not be open because no District 81 voters have registered in this split precinct.)Six Points 35Warrenville 41Aiken 47Breezy Hill 50Levels 52Hollow Creek 53Redd's Branch 57Town Creek 59Gem Lakes 60