Voters in Chester County could be headed back to the polls several months after the last election.
On Monday, a meeting of the S.C. Election Commission voted to require county voters to go back to their polling places to cast another ballot for the Chester County supervisor, less than a month after longtime incumbent Carlisle Roddey faced a strong challenge from a petition candidate.
Shane Stuart, who came just 230 votes shy of unseating Roddey from the county’s top executive post, protested the election result, citing irregularities on Election Day that included missing ballots and extra hurdles for voters. The Chester County Board of Canvassers rejected Stuart’s protest at its November meeting, but the candidate appealed to the state commission and on Monday won a new countywide election.
“We’re ready to go full speed ahead, knocking on doors, shaking hands and kissing babies,” Stuart said after the commission’s vote. “It’s going to be a challenge (to get voters to come back out), because it’s winter and it’s Christmastime, but we can address that. We’ve got a real opportunity here, and we’re going to capitalize on it.”
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Roddey said he hasn’t decided yet whether to appeal the commission’s decision, but claimed he was ready to move forward with a new election if necessary.
“I’m not afraid to run again. I feel like I won fair and square last time,” Roddey said. “But I had 4,000 people vote for me, and they threw their votes out the window. These people (Stuart) is talking about, we don’t know if they would have voted for me or voted for him. Nobody has a sign on their back saying who they would vote for.”
The countdown to a new vote will begin as soon as Gov. Nikki Haley issues a formal order to the county to hold a new election.
The election will take place between 75 and 90 days after the governor gives the order, which would put it sometime in February or March, said Chester County elections director Terry Graham.
Graham traveled to Monday’s meeting in Columbia to oppose Stuart’s appeal, but he will now be responsible for organizing a second vote.
“I wouldn’t do anything different,” Graham said. “We’re still going to offer the voters of Chester County the same fair and impartial election the same way we do all other elections.”
Stuart’s appeal cited the fact that 10 out of 21 polling precincts had missing ballot styles, which meant some voters received ballots that were missing uncontested races for the county council and school board.
Although the supervisor’s race was represented on all countywide ballots, Stuart believes the hassle and confusion for voters who may have been sent to the county elections office to cast their ballot could have discouraged enough voters to cost him the victory. He also claimed voters were denied their right to a secret ballot, since some who cast paper ballots at the elections office filled them out while seated at open tables.
Stuart claimed some voters in Fort Lawn were given ballots for supervisor that left his name off entirely, although Graham presented printouts to the county Board of Canvassers in November that showed Stuart did receive votes in the Fort Lawn precinct, suggesting his name was present on the ballot.
Members of the Election Commission did not cite a specific reason Monday for approving the re-vote, making the decision by a 4-0 vote after a legal discussion in executive session. Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire said the formal order would spell out the legal reasoning for the new election. The county could appeal the commission’s decision within 10 days to the S.C. Supreme Court, but Graham said his office is ready to proceed with a new vote once the timeline is established.
Roddey will still take office for a ninth term as supervisor in January and, if the decision isn’t overturned on appeal, will continue in that office until the next election.