CONWAY With election costs toppling $45,000 on the last go-around and claims of townspeople crying wolf “time and time again,” the Horry County administration committee opted Friday not to help Atlantic Beach with its pending Nov. 12 election.
In August, the Atlantic Beach Town Board passed a resolution to ask the Horry County Election Commission to oversee its upcoming election due to its storied history of challenges that have reach as high as the state Supreme Court and the Governor’s Office. But after a 45-minute discussion Friday – and a briefing of the town’s election history for committee members that was 176 pages long – the committee voted unanimously not to help the town.
William Booker, town manager of Atlantic Beach, said in addition to the county’s usual role of staffing the polls, preparing the ballots, providing voting machines and distributing the ballots, the town also was asking that the county oversee the ballot certification, counting the absentee ballots, certifying the candidates and the election results and hearing any protests that may come up. State code allows the town the opportunity to transfer some control to the county.
“Elections are quite complex,” Booker said. “With our newly appointed election commission, they don’t have the experience and the learning that comes with that experience, which turns out to be invaluable.”
Atlantic Beach has had a long past of election problems, which include the November 2011 election that was overturned, leading to a May 2012 special election and the eventual seating of Mayor Jake Evans during the summer. Then, the state ordered the county to intervene, which came with a $45,000 price tag that was half funded by the state.
“It’s important that we get help,” Booker said. “We want to restore the voter’s confidence in the voting process in Atlantic Beach and we also want to do everything we can to comply with the Supreme Court’s strong recommendation that we go out and get some help and oversight, and you’re the only place we have to come and get it.
County election commission Chairman Russell Hall, who went through the process the last time with Atlantic Beach, said, as a resident, he opposed the county’s participation in the process and has not talked to other commissioners about his stance.
“When we did the last election last May, I felt comfortable doing it,” he said. “As a commission, I felt it was our duty to do that and really felt good about that... But in the process of doing that, I started learning some things about some of the folks in Atlantic Beach... they grasp at straws. They cry wolf time and time again.”
Hall said his research found there was even a challenge in 2009. He said one of the first questions he received when listening to the challenge was what color he was.
“The reality is... my prayer is (Booker’s) prayer that we don’t have any more protests,” Hall said. “But the reality is if you go back just a decade, you have protest after protest after protest and what that does to an election and to a body is it weakens what we do.”
Councilman Carl Schwartzkopf said he would support helping Atlantic Beach if the town provided the county a certified cashier’s check for $50,000 to cover expenses and costs “plus all future costs.” Schwartzkopf said the election, the challenges and subsequent court hearings are “not the place to settle a dispute.”
Council Chairman Mark Lazarus said Atlantic Beach is on the right track, but he wasn’t comfortable supporting the request because of the current hostile conditions the town operates on.
“The problem I got with it is, first of all, I don’t know that it is our job to clean their house,” Lazarus said. “They need to clean their own house. Is it fair to our election commission to have to deal with that problem? I don’t know that it is.”
Councilman Marion Foxworth said protests and comments made in the heat of election season are all part of the political game. He also said a third party is needed for an election like this, but had a problem wit hits timing.
“I do feel like we’re in a unique position to help,” Foxworth said. “What we need is a good, solid third party to arbitrate that. I don’t really have a problem stepping in and do that. The problem I’ve got is the request. It’s sort of last minute, hurry up.”
Former Council Chairwoman Liz Gilland spoke up on behalf of the town.
“Horry County is only as strong as all the parts are,” she said. “If there’s a weak link – and right now the weak link is Atlantic Beach – then I think it behooves the county to reach out and give them a hand.”
Harold Worley, chairman of the administration committee, asked County Attorney Arrigo Carotti to look into how he could provide some recreation funds so the town could have an independent eye on its election.
Booker said without the county’s support, the burden now is on the town’s newly appointed election commission.
“We have an election commission in place. They’re going to be trained,” he said. “We’re going to give it our best shot and provide a fair and honest election for our citizens.”
Contact JASON M. RODRIGUEZ at 626-0301 or follow him at Twitter.com/TSN_jrodriguez.