By Paul Gable
The Horry County Republican Party Executive Committee voted 40 to 5, with two abstentions Thursday night, to dismiss the election protest filed by defeated county chairman candidate Mark Lazarus.
The protest was dismissed not because of reasons cited in the protest filing, i.e. 1377 incorrectly mailed absentee ballots, 208 absentee ballots that arrived after the cutoff deadline for counting or an alleged 1027 disenfranchised voters.
No. The protest was dismissed for one very simple reason – It was filed too late. The protest missed the filing deadline mandated in state law by 20 hours and 35 minutes. And the protest filing itself contains all the evidence necessary to support its dismissal. (A picture of the email that included the electronic filing with the Horry County Sheriff’s Office is attached below.)
The pertinent section of state law relating to notice of protest of a partisan party primary or primary runoff states:
“SECTION 7‑17‑520 (Code of Laws of South Carolina) Protests and contests generally; filing and service.
“The protests and contests in the case of county officers and less than county officers shall be “filed in writing with the chairman of the county party executive committee, together with a copy for “each candidate in the race not later than noon Monday following the day of the declaration by the “county committee of the result of the election. Service may be perfected by depositing with the county “sheriff a copy of the protest for the chairman together with a sufficient number of copies to be served “upon all candidates in the protested or contested race.”
The declaration by the county committee of the result of the election was Thursday June 30, 2022, when the election was certified at the Horry County Voter Registration and Elections Office. The Monday following the day of declaration by the county committee of the result of the election (emphasis added) was Monday July 4, 2022.
The electronic copy of the notice of protest had to be received in the Sheriff’s Office by noon July 4, 2022. It wasn’t! As the email from Lazarus’ attorney Butch Bowers clearly shows, the electronic copy of the notice to the Sheriff’s Office was initially sent at 8:35 a.m. Tuesday July 5, 2022 – 20 hours and 35 minutes past the deadline.
Some in the Lazarus camp may claim the protest was denied because of a legal technicality. It wasn’t!
Some in the Lazarus camp may suggest Lazarus should appeal the dismissal to the state Republican Party Executive Committee. I submit – He Can’t!
SECTION 7‑17‑530 (Code of Laws of South Carolina) Hearing by county executive committee, states in part, “The executive committee shall hear the protest or contest on Thursday following the deadline for filing the protest or contest…The chairman of the committee must conduct the hearing as nearly as possible in accordance with the procedures and rules of evidence observed by the circuit courts of this State.”
When a deadline for filing an appeal is missed in state court, the appeal is over, the case is over, there is nothing for the court to hear. Deadline means “the latest time by which something should be completed.”
It should be noted, state law does not make exceptions for federal holidays in the case of election protests. The timing of the notice of protest and the day on which it must be heard, according to state law, is so tight there are no allowances. The election is certified on the Thursday after the election (two days). A protest must be filed by the Monday following the Thursday certification (four days) and the protest must be heard on the Thursday following the Monday protest filing deadline (three days).
The protest is over because Lazarus’ attorney, Butch Bowers, missed a deadline!
During the discussion by Executive Committee members prior to the vote, it appeared Bowers was confused about which section of state law governed this particular protest.
An indication of Bowers’ confusion is contained in the email Bowers sent to the Horry County Sheriff’s Department. The email cited two sections of state law, Sec. 7-17-520 and Sec. 7-17-540. A simple reading of those two sections clearly demonstrates that only Sec. 7-17-520 is pertinent to a protest at the county Executive Committee level. Sec. 7-17-540 deals with appeals of protest decisions by county executive committees before the SCGOP Executive Committee. A copy of those appeals are required to be sent to SLED, not a copy of an original notice of protest.
When Bowers introduced himself, he stated, “I’m the state Republican party attorney. I’ve been the party lawyer for two decades.”
This brings up another question. Bowers represents the South Carolina Republican Party. The Horry County Republican Party is a sub-division of the SCGOP. How can the attorney for the SCGOP represent a client in a protest hearing before an official sub-division of his SCGOP client? That sounds like a definite conflict of interest.
Back to the discussion. Bowers said the issue of the filing deadline was “resolved last Thursday in a different case.” Bowers went on to say “the language in the statute says the Tuesday next or the Thursday next. That’s the language.”
That is definitely not the language in Sec. 7-17-520 of state law, which governs the deadline for filing a protest. (See language above) Bowers had to ask respondent Johnny Gardner’s attorney, Jarrett Bouchette, for a copy of the statute being discussed.
Bowers then made some confused statement that the word “following” was the key and concluded with “Again, we resolved this at the state level and that’s the end of it.”
According to several sources familiar with the SCGOP Executive Committee hearing, to which Bowers was referring, who spoke with GSD on conditions of anonymity, the discussion in Columbia dealt with a different section of state law and that discussion was not concluded with a vote. Based on the statements of those sources, there was no resolution at the state level of what was being debated during the HCGOP hearing despite Bowers’ statement.
Duane Oliver, a former chairman of the HCGOP, asked Bowers what authority he or the state party had to override state law. Bowers replied none.
Barbara Tracy of the Executive Committee asked Bowers why he did not file the protest by noon Monday July 4th. She correctly stated that the Sheriff’s Office was open 24/7 and could have received the filing by the deadline mandated by state law.
Bowers responded, “In my professional opinion the filing was timely.” (This is one of those situations when you’ve got yourself in a hole, quit digging. However, if Bowers had quit digging, he would have had to admit the protest was filed after the deadline.)
The circus should end here. Bowers, who acted like he was one of the “pros from Dover” in the movie MASH, was obviously confused about the section of state code governing the protest hearing by the HCGOP Executive Committee. Bowers missed the filing deadline for the protest required by state law and it is unclear how he can represent someone before a sub-division of the SCGOP he so proudly declared he has represented for two decades.
There is no decision of a protest hearing to be appealed at the state party level because no protest to the election results was filed by the state mandated deadline. Hence there could be no protest of the election results and the issue ended with the proper conclusion by the HCGOP Thursday night that no legal filing for a protest occurred.
As much as Lazarus and the Cabal who funded his campaign believe ‘the rules don’t apply to them’, they actually do!
And, most importantly, Johnny Gardner won the election fair and square.
The Bowers email: