SC Politics

Absentee Ballots Under Scrutiny In Rural South Carolina County

Protests filed …

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Elevated absentee ballot totals in at least one rural South Carolina have sparked formal protests and allegations of tampering – as well as questions about the results of prior elections. As of this writing, though, no formal request for an investigation has been made as election protests must first be filed with the appropriate county political party.

Rural Marion County – located in the impoverished Pee Dee region of the Palmetto State – is home to approximately 28,500 people. Last Tuesday, an impressive 5,952 of its 19,671 registered voters (or 30.26 percent of the electorate) cast ballots in the state’s partisan primary elections.

I say “impressive” because those of you tracking the anemic participation in the 2024 primary election cycle know that’s more than twice the statewide turnout – which clocked in at 13.59 percent.

What’s curious about these numbers, though, is not just how many of them there were – but the elevated number of absentee ballots cast by mail.

Last week, Marion voters narrowly reelected their incumbent coroner, Jerry M. Richardson. I say “reelected” because Marion County is a Democratic stronghold – and county-wide races like coroner are settled in the party’s primary, not the general election (which saw Richardson run unopposed in 2020).

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No Republicans filed for the seat this year, either – meaning the winner of the Democratic nomination is the winner of the election.

This year’s Democratic primary was close, though. Richardson received a total of 3,103 votes last Tuesday, giving him 52.58 percent of all ballots cast. His challenger, Kendra Fling, received 2,799 votes (or 47.42 percent of all ballots cast).

Had the race been confined to early voting and election day results, Fling would have carried the day by a little more than 140 votes. It wasn’t, though. Of the 5,902 Democrats who voted in this election, 1,065 of them (or 18 percent) voted absentee by mail.

Is that high? Yes.

Consider the GOP primary election for coroner in Greenville County, which is home to 335,274 registered voters (or more than seventeen times as many registered voters as Marion County). In that contest, 49,237 votes were cast – represented 17.4 percent of all registered voters.

How many ballots were cast absentee by mail in that race? Only 1,023 – or 2.07 percent.

See the difference?

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An even higher percentage of Marion County voters – 19.9 percent – voted absentee by mail in the Democratic primary election for S.C. House District 57, which was won by incumbent representative Lucas Atkinson. In fact, nearly all of Atkinson’s 626-vote margin of victory over challenger Cynthia Ford came via his edge in absentee by mail ballots cast in Marion County.

Of interest? Both Richardson and Atkinson are white elected officials who campaigned against black challengers in this majority-minority county. Both elections have been challenged with formal protests, according to reporter Tonya Brown of WPDE TV-15 (ABC – Florence/ Myrtle Beach).

According to our sources, local election officials have been provided with information regarding previous Marion County races which have featured what they call “suspiciously elevated” absentee ballot totals. There is also reportedly an affidavit tied to one complaint in the current election cycle involving an alleged “door-to-door” absentee ballot harvesting effort.

“If you don’t vote for (this) candidate I don’t get paid,” one of the organizers of the door-to-door effort is alleged to have told a voter.

Count on this media outlet to keep our audience in the loop on any additional information we are able to gather regarding this unfolding situation.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

(Travis Bell Photography)

Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina and before that he was a bass guitarist and dive bar bouncer. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and eight children.

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