When Beaufort County Council candidate Mike Covert and his wife went to their Bluffton precinct Wednesday afternoon to vote early in the Republican primary they noticed something neither of them could miss even if they were trying: Covert’s name wasn’t on the ballot.
His opponent Anna Maria Tabernik? Her name wasn’t on there either.
In fact, voters in District 6 had no option to vote in any of the District 6 county races.
That night, Covert took to his Facebook page to alert voters to the issue in a 17-minute video.
“All the voters out there need to be aware of this. I’m hoping that somebody shares this with my opponent. She needs to be aware of this. So this isn’t a selfish thing. This is serious,” Covert said.
The problem is apparently related to redistricting. Voters who were moved into new voting districts in Beaufort County were receiving ballots for their old districts.
This presented a conundrum for the Beaufort County Republicans because Beaufort County voters have come out in droves for early voting over the past 10 days. As of June 8, the county ranked third in the state for the number of early voters at 4,300, after Richland County with 4,408 early voters and Charleston County with 6,188.
“We need to identify the problem first,” said Kevin Hennelly, chairman of the Beaufort County Republican Party. “We have to find out how widespread this is.”
Hennelly began researching the issue Wednesday night and was up at dawn Thursday for more triage.
According to an email he sent to election officials, he found a “triangle” of streets in the Bluffton area where voters had not been moved from District 7 to District 6.
“I urge you and staff to begin checking all streets moved between districts to see if voters’ districts have been changed in VREMS (Voter Registration and Election Management System),” Hennelly wrote. “There were many changes this year to many districts and we need to provide voters confidence they are receiving the correct ballots with the correct candidates races to select from.”
As of Thursday afternoon, it did not seem like the hotly contested First Congressional District Republican primary between incumbent Nancy Mace and Katie Arrington was affected.
Marie Smalls, director of Beaufort County Board of Voter Registration and Elections, said Thursday afternoon that her office and the South Carolina Election Commission are conducting an audit to find out how many voters are affected.
“We’re hoping to get it resolved as quickly as possible,” she said.
On Thursday evening, Smalls sent an email to party leaders and the candidates saying that the issue had been corrected.
“Due to last-minute changes in the redistricting process, some County Council districts were not updated …,” she wrote. ”There were approximately 70 Republican primary voters in Beaufort County who received and cast ballots that included the wrong County Council districts (6 and 8).”
Smalls apologized for the effort and said, ”I assure you, staff and I have checked and double-checked all district information in the Voter Registration Management System, and all voters are now updated.”
Tabernik, who is running for the same District 6 County Council seat as Covert, said “I just want everyone to vote fairly. That’s what elections should be.”
Covert said he has retained Columbia attorney Butch Bowers and plans to ask for a special election.
“That is the ONLY legitimate way to have this election,” Covert wrote in a text. “Let the Board of Elections fix this countywide … then in two weeks have the County Council election.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Liz Farrell is the new executive editor at FITSNews. She was named 2018’s top columnist in the state by South Carolina Press Association and is back after taking a nearly two-year break from corporate journalism to reclaim her soul. Email her at [email protected] or tweet her @ElizFarrell.
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