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Election 2012: State board rebuffs county to declare Kerr winner
By Jason Lesley
Richard Kerr is preparing to join the Georgetown County School Board in January after the state Election Commission declared him the winner of the District 6 race during an appeals hearing this week in Columbia.
By a 5-0 vote, the state commission overturned a decision by the Georgetown County Board of Elections and Registration ordering a new election in District 6 between Kerr and Peggy Wheeler-Cribb.
There will be no appeal to the state Supreme Court, Wheeler-Cribb said Wednesday. “I have congratulated him,” she said, “and will let it be.”
The local elections board voted 8-1 for a new election Nov. 19 after discovering some voters in the Murrells Inlet 2 Precinct may have been given the wrong school district ballots. Board member Billy Altman estimated that some 240 voters got District 1 school board ballots even though they lived in District 6. The precinct was split between school board districts after the 2010 Census.
Kerr’s final victory margin was 22 votes.
Kerr’s lawyer, Dan Stacy, argued that no voter objected to the ballot they were given at the Murrells Inlet precinct and that Wheeler-Cribb did not produce a single witness to validate her assertion that voters had been denied the opportunity to cast a ballot for her.
“There was only the potential that some voters could have been given the wrong ballot style,” Stacy told the state commission members during Tuesday’s hearing.
Altman told his fellow board members after the vote was certified Nov. 9 that he had been unable to sleep following the Nov. 6 election because he discovered that some of his neighbors received different school board ballots from his. Altman testified at the local hearing that he could not be certain about the number of votes the ballot error cost Cribb.
“Peggy Wheeler-Cribb had to suffer the consequences of a problem not of her own making,” Bob Moran, her lawyer, said Wednesday. He called the commission’s decision disheartening.
“Mr. Altman was crystal clear,” Moran said during the hearing. “The Georgetown County Election Commission made a mistake. We’re not speculating about votes. This is the Georgetown County Election Commission’s own expert saying it looks like 240 people didn’t get to vote in the election.”
Stacy called Cribb’s petition for a new election “a blanket assertion” that voters were disenfranchised.
Altman was Cribb’s only witness at the county hearing that overturned the election. Stacy said Altman should have recused himself from the board’s vote.
“We’re not sure that objectivity can still be there,” Stacy told the state commissioners. Stacy also cast doubt on the local board’s process because members went into executive session to receive legal advice with Altman present.
“For that reason alone,” Stacy said, “we feel that Mr. Kerr’s election should be allowed to stand. It was highly irregular and made it impossible for Mr. Kerr’s hearing at the local level to be carried out properly.”
Moran said Altman’s vote had minimal effect. The vote to overturn the election would have been 7-1 rather than 8-1, he said.
Stacy used the words of the local board’s secretary, Joyce Gunter, to further make his case. “I’d like to thank Billy for all he did,” Gunter said at the local hearing. “He was unable to say anything for sure. I like to be sure. We didn’t get the facts. There’s a lot of conjecture out there.”
Despite those comments, Gunter voted for a new election.
“Maybe some people in Murrells Inlet 2 might have gotten the wrong ballot style,” Stacy said, “but there’s no evidence they did. The presumption here is in favor of Mr. Kerr.”
After Tuesday’s hearing, Kerr said the county board’s decision was based on “pure emotion.”
“This is the reason we decided to take it to the state level,” he said. “There was no evidence presented that people didn’t vote the way they wanted.”
Stephanie Hill contributed to this report from Columbia.