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Election 2012: Democrats will hold 7th District runoff

The S.C. Election Commission will recount the votes in the Democratic Party primary in the 7th Congressional District and hold a runoff election Tuesday between Preston Brittain and Gloria Bromell Tinubu. The commission announced the runoff Friday following an order by a Circuit Court judge.

Judge Larry Hyman ruled that the commission erred in not counting the votes of Ted Vick, a state representative from Chesterfield County, who dropped out of the 7th District race in May after being charged with drunken driving. Vick’s name appeared on all the electronic ballots and some absentee ballots.

By disregarding the votes for Vick, the commission determined that Tinubu had 52 percent of the vote. When those votes are included in the total, Tinubu falls short of the majority needed to win outright.

The commission argued its policy has been not to count votes for candidates who withdraw or are disqualified. The state Attorney General’s office recommended the commission count the votes for Vick, citing court rulings in other states.

Hyman sided with the Attorney General’s office. He ordered the commission to certify the election with Vick’s votes included and hold the election, on June 26 if feasible.

The Election Commission issued a statement Friday saying it was prepared to hold the Democratic Party runoff along with the Republican Party runoff between André Bauer and Tom Rice on Tuesday.

The commission’s executive director, Marci Andino, noted this was the first time a court had ruled on the issue of counting votes for candidates who withdraw. “The SEC will abide by its ruling and not appeal the decision,” she said.

Hyman heard arguments in the case Thursday in Georgetown. He took the night to “sleep on” his decision.

“This question goes to the heart, to the very heart, of voter confidence, and voter confidence in my opinion is at an all-time low right now,” he said in court. “This system must be restored and that can only be accomplished when the voters are sure every step has been taken to make certain the proper procedures have been followed.”

Two of Brittain’s supporters, Vincent Masterpaul and Donnie McBride, filed suit after the commission’s 3-2 vote that there would be no runoff. Masterpaul gave testimony on Thursday. It’s clear to him that “a vote cast is a vote counted,” he said.

That’s sometimes the only way for a person to have a voice, he argued. If votes are cast out, “you’re basically saying we don’t have a voice.”

Attorneys debated technical issues, matters of jurisdiction and rules of civil procedure as the Election Commission pushed to have the case dismissed.

Then they moved to interpretations of state law, the definition of a “candidate” and whether the commission had time to change the ballot to reflect Vick’s withdrawal.

If there wasn’t time, the public should have been made aware votes for Vick wouldn’t be counted, according to Masterpaul.

“I applaud the South Carolina court for overturning the South Carolina Election Commission’s original decision to disenfranchise voters,” Brittain said.

Tinubu scheduled a press conference for Friday afternoon at her campaign headquarters in Conway.

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