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June 18, 2010

S.C. Dems uphold senate primary result

S.C. Democratic Party officials rejected a protest filed by its U.S. Senate primary loser during a packed, emotionally charged meeting Thursday night.

S.C. Democratic Party officials rejected a protest filed by its U.S. Senate primary loser during a packed, emotionally charged meeting Thursday night.

The move by the party's executive committee leaves Alvin Greene, an unemployed military veteran who is facing a felony charge, as the party's nominee against U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., this fall.

Greene's vanquished opponent, Charleston County councilman Vic Rawl, had an attorney, voters, his campaign manager and a pair of math and computer experts tell the five dozen executive committee members that his primary defeat was probably the result of some type of problem with the state's electronic voting system.

Committee members seemed open to the notion that something could be wrong with the voting system, but they were loathe to overturn the results of the primary without proof of some specific problem.

"I do believe that what happened last Tuesday was deeply flawed," said state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg. "But as Democrats, we do the right thing. We do the right thing even when it hurts us."

Certainly, there is the potential for political pain this fall, as DeMint, perhaps the state's most popular Republican, is an overwhelming favorite to retain his seat. But there is the potential for embarrassment, too, as Greene's behavior - that felony arrest, questions about how he paid the $10,400 campaign filing fee and concerns about his mental capacity - have drawn a swarm of mostly unflattering national attention.

Don Fowler, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and the husband of Carol Fowler, the state party chairwoman, said Greene is not the candidate his party would have chosen.

But despite the fact that Greene raised no campaign money, did no campaigning that anyone can remember and remains a virtual unknown even in the rural county where he lives, he got more than 100,000 votes and smashed Rawl, who had raised $186,000 and had the support of party figures.

Fowler, like 54 other executive committee members, voted against the protest filed by Rawl, who sought a new election by paper ballot. Only 10 committee members voted to uphold the protest.

Because some committee members had half votes while others had full votes, the official vote was 38.5 to 7.5 to reject Rawl's protest.

"This is not about me," Rawl said after the vote was counted and he was swarmed by state and national media members. "It's not about blacks. It's not about whites. It's about the sanctity of our electoral process."

That Greene, who is black, won because other black voters cast their ballots for him was but one of the theories attacked by Rawl's campaign manager, Walter Ludwig.

Rawl said nothing during the proceedings, which had all the elements of a southern courtroom drama, including a bow-tied lawyer, small-town witnesses and expert testimony.

That lawyer, Truett Nettles, led Ludwig, a pair of expert witness and voters through what he described in his opening statement as an election of statistical anomalies that strongly suggested some type of problem with the voting machines.

It was Ludwig who was most succinct.

"I believe the election misfired," he said. "Serious abnormalities exist in the results of this election."

Ludwig was backed by Duncan Allen Buell, a math and computer expert from the University of South Carolina, who said the state's voting system is unreliable.

"The system could, in fact, be tampered with," he said. "It would be possible to tamper with the machine and corrupt the vote at least countywide."

Before Rawl's team got going, Carol Fowler noted one key absence from the proceedings: Alvin Greene.

"I wanted to make clear to everyone in the room that it was made clear to Mister Greene that he could be here," she said. "He was not only welcomed but encouraged to be here."

Greene, however, stayed away, leaving the night to Rawl.

His team's pitch made some headway with some committee members.

"I came in here very open-minded," said Mike Evatt of Oconee County. "I've tried to remain that way. My gut feeling (upon) leaving to come here was I was going to vote to uphold the election. After hearing testimony, I'm not so sure how I'm going to vote."

Evatt voted in favor of the protest, but other committee members could not get past a few key points, including:

Why was the U.S. Senate primary the only one apparently affected by voting machine problems?

If the primary results were overturned, what response would Greene and his voters have?

And what proof existed that votes counted for Greene were actually cast for Rawl?

Those questions formed a hurdle Rawl's team was never able to clear.

"They haven't proven anything to me," said Marvin Stevenson of Marion County. "Here we had all these elections in the state of South Carolina and this is the only one with a problem? I don't buy into that. I think (Rawl) had a fair election. The results are the results."

The Democratic Party might have to live with those results - or, maybe, not.

Greene does face a felony charge, which stems from an allegation by a USC student that he entered a computer lab, pulled up pornographic images and suggested they go to her room.

After that November arrest, Greene filed paperwork to declare himself an indigent who would not be unable to cover the cost of legal representation. In March, he paid a $10,400 filing fee to run for the U.S. Senate.

U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., has suggested that someone else paid Greene's filing fee. Greene has said he paid the fee with his own money.

The 5th Circuit Solicitor's Office is investigating Greene's claim of indigence.

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