By Paul Gable
Five days after winning the election for the Republican nomination for Horry County Council Chairman, Johnny Gardner was “recertified” as the winner over incumbent Mark Lazarus by the Horry County Election Commission.
After the S.C. Election Commission approved an audit of the final tally of the votes, the certified result of the election was announced at 11:41 a.m. Saturday June 16, 2018, as Gardner 12,426, Lazarus 12,313, a margin of 113 votes.
The count also included the race for House District 104 where William Bailey received 2,312 votes to 2,295 votes for incumbent House member Greg Duckworth.
Shortly after a mandatory recount confirmed both results, Lazarus called Gardner to concede the election. Gardner said Lazarus was very professional and gracious with his words when he conceded.
Gardner was initially certified as the winner two days ago with an automatic recount scheduled for the next day. When people returned for the recount, they were told that another 209 votes had been found in machines from the Ocean Forest 2 precinct.
This announcement began one and one-half days of confusion, bordering at times on chaos, before the local election commission received approval of an audit of the votes from the state election commission.
During the interval, James Wiles, who told commissioners he was “representing the Lazarus campaign”, gave the members a sheet of paper which he called a “Freedom of Information request” and said the campaign objected to recertification of the results.
“I am prepared to start discovery to see if there should be a protest,” Wiles added.
According to all the information I could find on Wiles, he was suspended by the Pennsylvania Bar Association in 2005 and is not a member of the South Carolina Bar Association. He can certainly act as a private citizen representing himself before the election commission, but what status he had “representing the Lazarus campaign” and “prepared to start discovery” is open to question.
After a motion and second was made to recertify the results on Saturday, Wiles again stated an objection to recertification, which was correctly ignored, as commission members voted unanimously to approve the motion.
Adding to the confusion of the entire two and one-half day proceeding before the election commission was local attorney and Republican Representative for S.C. House District 107 Alan Clemmons who was representing the Horry County Republican Party at the meetings, according to statements by Clemmons and H.C. Republican Chair Dreama Perdue.
There was no attorney representing the Horry County Election Commission present at the proceedings.
According to two county Republican officials, Perdue independently chose Clemmons to represent the party. The bylaws of the party require party officials to remain neutral during primary campaigns. Perdue was seen several campaign events wearing a “Lazarus” t-shirt.
Clemmons, the attorney who was allegedly representing the “neutral” Horry County Republican Party officials, was an extremely partisan participant for Lazarus and Duckworth during the primary campaign. He endorsed both candidates, made a video and spoke for Lazarus at campaign events and knocked on doors soliciting votes for Duckworth.
With the Lazarus concession, it appears there will be no appeal of the certified results of the county council chair primary.
Duckworth also conceded to Bailey early in the evening. What once seemed like two sure election challenges ended with two classy concessions.