York County Councilman Eric Winstead has asked to be taken off the June 12 Republican primary ballot, but he plans to finish his term, according to a letter he sent to York County officials.
In the letter, dated Monday, Winstead said he would not seek re-election due to health reasons.
As the June 12 primaries approach, York County GOP leaders and officials from the county elections office are racing to determine whether it would be legal and prudent to reopen candidate filing after Winstead’s withdrawal from the District 3 council race.
Joe Cox, a Sharon Town Council member and former York County Council member, is the only other Republican in the race for District 3.
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York County elections officials have concerns about reopening filing when absentee ballots already have been sent out, some have already been returned, and voting machines are being prepared.
Winstead did not attend the York County Council meeting Monday night in York.
Council leaders expressed surprise that Winstead has decided to finish out his term.
That news follows Winstead telling The Herald on Friday that he resigned “effective immediately.” Late Saturday, Joe St. John, who’s running Winstead’s re-election campaign, sent out a news release indicating the same to local reporters, following Winstead’s instructions.
Winstead, who hasn’t been available by phone, had plans to resign after his arrest last week in Chester County. He was charged with leaving the scene of an accident and driving too fast for conditions after troopers accused him of hitting a sign and a ditch on Old York Road north of Chester and leaving the scene on foot.
Winstead was arrested at his home in York on Wednesday morning – his second arrest in five months. In December, he was arrested after a York County Sheriff’s deputy stopped him after noticing his car swerving.
Winstead pleaded guilty in January to first-offense driving under the influence.
“It has been my honor and a privilege to have the support of District 3 and my peers on the council,” Winstead wrote in Monday’s letter. “As your council member, I always tried to do what is best for the people of District 3 and York County.
“I ask for your prayers for my family and me and ask that we have some privacy so that we can focus on the matters at hand immediately.”
York County Council members expressed surprise at Winstead’s decision to stay in office and uncertainty over when he would return to the meetings.
As he did after Winstead’s arrest, Chairman Britt Blackwell withheld giving an opinion on Winstead’s decision.
“It’s his decision to make, and I wouldn’t want to judge him further than that not knowing all the facts,” he said.
Councilman Bruce Henderson also expressed his concern for Winstead, pointing out that whether he actually gets convicted on his charges is still up in the air.
“A lot of times when we hear these stories we forget that there’s real live people involved,” Councilman Chad Williams said.
Williams said he hasn’t been able to get in touch with Winstead to offer his support “but I certainly hope he knows it’s there.”
Williams said if Winstead is able to seek help “that would be great.”
“I’m glad he’s not seeking re-election,” Glenn McCall, chairman of the York County Republican Party, said Monday after receiving Winstead’s letter.
After Winstead’s arrest last week, McCall said if he were in Winstead’s position, he would resign immediately.
On Monday, McCall still felt that way. “There’s nothing I can do,” McCall said. “Personally, I would not remain. I would take care of my family, and that’s what I told Eric. I’m concerned about his wife and his two daughters.”
McCall said his “main concern” now is getting new candidates on the June 12 primary ballot, a process that couldn’t begin until Winstead formally withdrew his candidacy.
At least there will be some representation for District 3, he said.
Pat Calkins, chairperson of the York County Democratic Party, expressed concern Monday about Winstead and his family going through this “difficult time. There’s nothing more that we should interject here,” she said.
County Manager Jim Baker said he heard from Winstead that he wouldn’t be at Monday night’s meeting, but didn’t know when he would return.
Officials seek guidance
McCall has called an emergency meeting of the York County GOP’s executive committee for 6 p.m. Tuesday at Thursdays Too restaurant, 147 Herlong Ave. in Rock Hill.
At the meeting, which will be open to the public, McCall will recommend that the committee vote to reopen filing for a half-day later this week, he said.
County elections officials are working to see if such a move would be in accordance with state law.
Wanda Hemphill, director of registration and elections, said she has been in discussion with York County’s attorney and has sought opinions from the S.C. State Election Commission on the matter.
Hemphill said the York County elections commission has a meeting scheduled tentatively for Thursday morning.
A provision in state law allows for the entry of new candidates after the deadline for filing ends if “there are not more than two candidates for any one office and one or more of the candidates dies, or withdraws.”
Withdrawals must be for nonpolitical reasons, which include health, family crises and “substantial business conflicts.”
But whether there’s time to get the names of new candidates on the ballot is a question.
Hemphill has some concerns about reopening filing with only three weeks left until the June 12 primaries. The county has sent out 80 absentee ballots. Some of those have been returned, she said.
“If we moved forward with the re-opening of the filing and it changes the ballot, I need to know that those ballots will get to those voters” who asked to vote absentee, she said. “It may seem simple on the surface just to reopen filing, but there are a lot of complexities to it.”
“However we move forward we need to be sure we are on solid legal grounds and that we are protecting the interest of the voters.”