By Paul Gable
The protest by candidate Mark Lazarus of the certification of the election results for the primary runoff election for Horry County Council Chairman will be heard at 6 p.m. Thursday July 7, 2022, by the Executive Committee of the Horry County Republican Party.
The protest brief, prepared by attorney Butch Bowers of Columbia, appears to be an amalgam of speculation and supposition rather than a protest based on hard facts.
At issue are 1377 absentee ballots sent to Republican voters. According to the Horry County Voter Registration and Elections Department, Democratic ballots were initially sent to the Republican voters. When the mistake was discovered, Republican ballots were sent.
According to the protest brief, 140 of those absentee ballots were received by the county elections office prior to close of polls on election day. Those ballots were included in the vote totals of the primary runoff election for county chairman.
State law is quite specific, absentee ballots must be checked that the ballots were signed by the voter to whom issued and witnessed by a different person with the witness address included with the ballot. In addition, only absentee ballots received by a county election office prior to close of polls on election day may be counted in vote totals, according to state law section 7-15-420.
The S. C. General Assembly passed amendments to election law this past legislative session. The amendments passed unanimously in both Houses. One of the areas amended was new requirements and restrictions on absentee ballot voting in order to strengthen chances of eliminating potential fraud with absentee ballots.
Bowers says in his brief that 1377 ballots were sent, only 140 were returned and concludes the 1237 difference are “unaccounted for due to the sole and exclusive error of the Board render the outcome of this election doubtful.”
Bowers’ conclusion has no basis in fact and is mere speculation on why the ballots were never returned to the election board. There are many reasons absentee ballots are not returned to be counted such as, sickness, death, emergency, never filled out and the voter may have chosen to vote at the polls instead. The fact that 140 absentee ballots were returned to the board properly and were counted in the vote totals establishes that there was sufficient time to fill out and return all the 1377 if the voters chose to do so.
And the citation accompanying this statement, Broadhurst v. City of Myrtle Beach Election Commission refers to an entirely different set of circumstances. Broadhurst was granted a new election because a voting machine malfunctioned and the over 200 votes cast and stored in it could not be recovered. These votes were known to be legally cast at the poll but unable to be counted, not the same scenario as absentee ballots not returned and unknown what happened to them but definitely not legal ballots because they failed to be returned to the county election office by the deadline mandated by state law.
The next cause to overturn the election stated by Bowers is another flight of fancy. He refers to 183 absentee ballots received by the county election office on the day after the polls closed and 25 more received the following day. According to Bowers’ own statement, these ballots are not legal absentee ballots because they arrived after polls were closed, missing the state law mandated deadline to be counted. Undeterred, Bowers states Lazarus was potentially deprived of another 183 ballots (I guess he forgot about the other 25) that would have been allocated to him under applicable case law.
This is untrue. What Bowers is referring to is a legal standard in which uncounted “legal” ballots are added to the loser’s total to determine if enough exist to have changed the outcome of the election. Again, these are not uncounted “legal” ballots because they didn’t arrive at the elections office by the deadline mandated by state law. Nice try though to twist the facts.
Bowers then proceeds to cite case law with respect to the addition of uncounted “legal” ballots and states “all rejected, uncounted legal ballots must be added to Mr. Lazarus’ vote count.”
That’s a fine statement. However, so far, Bowers has failed to identify any “uncounted legal ballots” as a matter of fact. All he has done so far is speculate about ballots that were never returned to the election office and, therefore, are not “legal ballots.”
Bowers then digresses to “illegally cast ballots” of which none are at issue in this election nor identified in the Bowers filing.
Bowers then concludes, “It is undisputed that there were 1377 GOP voters who timely requested a ballot by mail, but only 142 (up from 140?) of those ballots were received by last Tuesday’s deadline. Furthermore, the 208 whose ballots that arrived one or two days “late” due to no fault of their own rendered another 1027 voters disenfranchised.
It’s okay if you find this a little hard to follow. What he is really asserting is that now 142 ballots were returned by the legally mandated deadline. Those votes were counted. Another 208 arrived at the election office beyond the legally mandated deadline. Those votes were not counted as state law mandates because they arrived after the deadline to allow them to be counted. The other 1027 unaccounted for absentee ballots Bowers speculates disenfranchised voters when, in fact, those voters may have chosen to vote in early voting, at the polls on election day, curbside, provisional or not vote at all.
Bowers provides no facts to prove the 1027 voters he refers to were, in fact, disenfranchised and did not, in fact, choose to vote some other way.
None of the three cases cited by Bowers to support his protest appear to have any relevance to the election protest filed for Lazarus. All three either deal with uncounted, legal ballots or illegally counted ballots neither of which condition applies in the Gardner/Lazarus election. Bowers is trying to present absentee ballots that arrived after the state mandated deadline or did not arrive at all as uncounted, legal ballots, which they clearly are not and to infer that the 1027 ballots unaccounted for result in that number of voters being disenfranchised when, if fact, those voters may have chosen to exercise their franchise in another manner.
Bowers concludes his protest by respectfully requesting the Horry County Republican Party Executive Committee “to grant this protest and hold a new election pursuant to the laws of South Carolina…” even though his protest has provided no factual basis on which to make such a ruling.
Elections may not be overturned on the basis of supposition and speculation!
In the title, I called the protest “extremely weak.” I now submit it is less than weak. Facts are non-existent to support Bowers’ request for a new election.