Originally created 11/07/02

School board candidate will protest loss



AIKEN - Rebekah "Reb" Sutherland, a candidate for Aiken County School Board's District 2 seat who lost Tuesday's election by more than 1,000 votes, isn't done fighting.

Mrs. Sutherland said Wednesday she planned to file a protest by today, after she'd reviewed the law.

She said the protest was over miscast votes in the Windsor 4 precinct. The precinct is split between voters who live in District 2 and those who live in District 1.

Stuart Bedenbaugh, the director of the Aiken County Voter Registration and Election Office, said 149 voters in District 1 inadvertently cast District 2 votes.

Mrs. Sutherland also is protesting votes cast in the Beech Island 8 precinct. Seventy-two voters there should have voted in the District 2 race but voted in the District 3 race instead.

No candidates were disputing the school board's District 3 or District 6 contests, won by incumbent Lawrence "Larry" Murphy and former Principal Christine Sanders, respectively.

Mrs. Sanders, with 43 percent of the vote, and two other challengers will not face a runoff because school board races are determined by a plurality.

Mrs. Sutherland said Wednesday she didn't suspect tampering by poll workers but that "it looks suspicious."

Mr. Bedenbaugh said Mrs. Sutherland had until next Wednesday at noon to file a protest, though it would likely be in vain. Historically, he said, if the votes in question would not change the election's outcome, no action is taken.

Mrs. Sutherland collected only 1,117 votes, or 34 percent, to Valerie Towles' 2,165, of 66 percent.

Mrs. Towles' husband, David Towles, said there was no use for a protest because it wouldn't change the outcome.

"I don't know why she's bothering," he said.

Once a protest is filed, it will be reviewed by the Aiken County Elections Commission Nov. 18, Mr. Bedenbaugh said. If Mrs. Sutherland is unhappy with the decision, the protest could be taken to the state level.

Mr. Bedenbaugh said that, other than the District 2 protest, Tuesday's elections ran smoothly despite larger-than-expected turnouts. Fifty-seven percent of Aiken County's 69,526 registered voters hit the polls.

Nonpresidential general elections typically attract about half the county's voters, Mr. Bedenbaugh said.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 279-6895 scbureau@augustachronicle.com.