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Election 2012: Like voter ID, bathroom will wail until next year

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

The Georgetown County Board of Voter Registration and Elections discussed preparations for the Nov. 6 elections last week, but closed the lid on two matters until next year.

The board briefly discussed a decision by the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to allow South Carolina to implement a voter ID law in 2013. The court found that the state’s proposal was not discriminatory, but it’s too late to make a change in voting laws. Since voter ID won’t be an issue this year, board members decided not to worry about it until after the election.

The second contentious issue was settled in much the same fashion.

The board voted 5-2 to restore a women’s bathroom that was converted to a closet for a water heater during renovations. Joyce Gunter, the board secretary, raised the issue of the bathroom in September, claiming that her modesty would be put to the test if she had to walk down a hall to use a refurbished women’s bathroom on election nights.

“Women don’t like to pass men going to the bathroom,” she said at last week’s meeting. There is a bathroom on each end of the building, but Gunter said the one near her station on election night is for men and has an offending urinal in it. There are also two new handicapped-accessible bathrooms in the public waiting area.

Gunter moved to add her bathroom proposal to the board’s agenda, and her motion was approved. (The state Court of Appeals ruled earlier this year such amendments violate the Freedom of Information Act.)

When she handed chairman Dean Smith a copy of an e-mail she had received from County Administrator Sel Hemingway about the bathroom, pressure began to build. He’d seen it, Smith said.

He and Gunter have butted heads at board meetings before, each complaining about the other’s conduct.

Smith said the board was not flush with cash and couldn’t afford more renovations. Gunter said the bathroom alteration would cost just $200, and the county would pay for it.

Smith told Gunter that the board’s bylaws say that issues should be discussed prior to taking action, and only the chairman and the director are authorized to speak for the board.

“You disobeyed the bylaws,” he told Gunter.

“That’s all right,” she said. “Sel and I go way back.”

“We’re out of order,” Smith declared.

Board member Richard Butts attempted an intervention.

“I’m feeling the animosity here,” he said. “If the county will pay for the bathroom, let’s get it. I don’t want to see this on the agenda again.”

A majority agreed. Although the board voted to replace the women’s bathroom on the Duke Street side of the building, Smith said it was too late to begin the renovations with the election just weeks away. Gunter objected but eventually settled for having her privacy restored in the future.

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