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Election commission letter could put the brakes on Pine Ridge change of leadership

Lexington, SC (Paul Kirby) – A procedural problem with Tuesday’s elections in Lexington County could put the brakes on the change of leadership in the town of Pine Ridge. In a letter sent to John Carrigg, the chairperson of the Lexington County Board of Voter Registration & Elections, dated November 8, 2017, the day after the election, Harrison D. Brant, the general counsel of the South Carolina Election Commission, said that there was a procedural problem with two municipal elections in Lexington County that needed to be remedied. In one of those cases, the problem really didn’t affect anything because no one mounted a write-in campaign. In the case of the election in Pine Ridge, it could undo the selection of Robert Wells as the mayor elect and return David Busby to office as the mayor.

In that letter it says when someone is running for office in a town or city in our county that the Lexington County board has a procedure of requiring their Election Director to provide those municipalities with the option of placing the office on the ballot. This is done even if no one has filed to run against the candidate, and no one has declared that they will run for the office as a write-in by giving a two-week notice as is currently required by South Carolina law. The letter said that this is in direct conflict with SC law and then quotes the statutes that apply.

Without boring you with all the legal mumbo-jumbo, I will link the entire document here: Letter from SC Election Commission.

The part that particularly applies to the write-in campaign that appeared to make Robert Wells the town’s first new mayor in more than 20 years after Tuesday’s election is under Section 1, Paragraph A and B, and in Sections 2 and 3.

In those lines it says that if no one has filed to run for the office (cutoff was August 25th, 2017), and no one has filed a declaration to be a write-in candidate with the authority charged by law with conducting the election (the Lexington County Board of Voter Registration & Elections), then the person who legally filed by the deadline should be deemed the winner, meaning they are elected and hold the office, and that person would take office the Monday following the certification. In the case of Pine Ridge, that would be next Monday.

In bold letters, the communication from the state says, “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.” Then it continues after the words, Emphasis Added, “As a result of not following the statute shown above, ballots for at least two municipalities in Lexington County contained offices in which only one candidate filed, and no person filed as a write-in candidate."

The letter does point out that the general assembly changed this law recently, but it is currently the law of the land. It will change on January 1, 2018.

The last line of the correspondence says, “Please let our office know immediately how the Board (Lexington County Board of Voter Registration & Elections) plans to remedy the erroneous placement of offices on municipal election ballots.

What does this mean? In Pine Ridge, retiring Councilperson Robert Wells’ son announced just three days prior to the election on Tuesday that his father was running as a write-in candidate. This was done on social media. The write-in campaign was never declared to the Lexington County Board of Voter Registration & Elections which the law requires that you do two weeks in advance of the election. Now the question remains, just how does the board plan to remedy the erroneous placement of offices on municipal election ballots?

When contacted by phone Thursday, Dean Crepes, the Director of the Lexington County Board of Voter Registration & Elections had planned to meet to discuss this issue and decide upon a remedy for the situation. Crepes is an employee that works for the board. He oversees the elections, the office, and its employees; however, he is not a policy maker. That task falls to the board. Hopefully, we will hear from the board on Friday how they have decided to handle this and what they will do.

If the letter of the law is followed, David Busby, the current mayor of Pine Ridge who lost to Robert Wells, the write-in candidate, by less than 15 votes, would be sworn in again as mayor of the small town for another four-year term next Monday. That is because Well’s write-in effort was illegal under state law. I understand that the town may have a little leeway to hold that ceremony on Tuesday, but that I’m not sure of.

When contacted by telephone Thursday, longtime Mayor Busby had a great deal to say about how things were done. He never said anything derogatory toward Wells himself, but he did believe that the group that pushed Wells to run had been holding a grudge against him for years. “Robert has served on the council for many years,” Busby said, “and we have never had any major conflicts. When he said he was retiring because of his health, I took him at his word.”

Link to Robert Wells story from Thursday

Busby said that if Wells wanted to be the town’s mayor, and the majority of the town wanted him to be mayor, he (Busby) would resign after being re-sworn next week, and the town could have a fair, open, and legal election to select the new leader of the town. “If they don’t want me anymore, and they are in the majority, then they can elect who they want, they just need to do it legally,” Busby said.

He made it abundantly clear that he was aware of who was behind the sneak attack that pushed Wells to do what he did. Busby just feels they should come out of the shadows, hold an open, honest, fair, and legal election, and then go from there.

The other municipality that had this same issue was not specified, but at this point it’s moot because no write-in candidate ran to flip the position.

There are some examples from Tuesday that show how it was supposed to have been done. In the Town of Springdale, Mayor Michael Bishop had no opposition, and prior to the election no one declared as a write-in two week prior to the election so he was declared the winner and will be the mayor of that town for another four years.

We will update this story as soon as we hear from the county’s election commission regarding their decision.

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