CONWAY — The race for Horry County’s next council chairman was narrowed to two candidates – Mark Lazarus and Al Allen – Thursday after the county’s election commission certified and recounted the votes before ordering a runoff election.
The runoff election is set for March 26, while the general election will follow on April 30, said Sandy Martin, director of Horry County Voter Registration. The commission added 16 ballots to the count before they certified the votes.
A runoff is needed because none of the candidates received more than 50 percent of the total vote. Allen and Debbie Harwell were separated by 116 votes, which spurred Thursday’s recount.
Lazarus received 5,534 votes; Allen 3,319 votes; Harwell 3,202 votes; Liz Gilland 1,283 votes; and Fonzie Lewis 229 votes, said Russell Hall, commission chairman.
A total of 13,638 people voted in Tuesday’s election, which was low, Hall said. The general election for the position will have the runoff winner and be open to any write-in candidates.
That winner will fill the term vacated by former Horry County Council chairman Tom Rice following his election to the U.S. Congress to represent the 7th Congressional District. The term expires in 2014.
James Lovett, whose ballot was challenged Thursday, appeared before the commission to explain he put himself down as a write-in candidate because he didn’t care for any of the candidates on the ballot.
“I voted for myself because I could not find anyone on the ballot I could put faith in. If you don’t have money, it is very difficult to reach office,” Lovett said.
Lovett’s ballot was excluded and Hall said write-in candidates are not allowed during the primary, only during the general election.
Two ballots were excluded because the voters did not have proper identification and two others were excluded because they voted in the wrong precinct. One ballot, an absentee, was returned on Wednesday.
“If they don’t have an ID at the election site, they can vote paper ballot and bring a valid ID here,” Hall said.
Allen and Lazarus said they will continue their campaigns on the same policies and want voters to return to the polls in two weeks.
“Debbie ran a very good, positive campaign and I appreciate that,” Allen said Thursday. “We have to push the message out there and encourage people to get out and vote. It is critical that the people do turnout because a very low percentage of voters will be deciding.”
Harwell did not immediately return calls Thursday for comment.
Lazarus said he is excited about the next two weeks and is confident voters will go to the polls again for him.
“We’re going to stick with our plan that we had all along . . . to our platform, which is about leadership, jobs, crime and employee morale throughout the county,” Lazarus said Thursday. “Although, we are the top vote getter by a substantial amount, we have to make sure the voters, who believe in our message . . . get back out and vote again so their voices can be heard.”
Contact TONYA ROOT at 444-1723 or follow her at Twitter.com/tonyaroot.