Surfside Beach admits 'confusion' to election process, but rejects protest

While admitting there is confusion with the definition of “candidate,” the Surfside Municipal Elections Commission rejected a protest of its recent municipal election.

The decision paves the way for a runoff election on April 17 between Debbie Scoles and Tim Courtney.

They were part of a recent election that had three open seats with six people vying for them. David Pellegrino and Bruce Dietrich won seats on the council through the first election.

Courtney, Scoles, MaryNell True and Cabell Young were the other candidates, but none received enough votes for a seat. That set the stage for the upcoming runoff vote.

Once that vote is complete, the town will certify the entire election results.

Young filed a protest over the election and on Friday the commission heard his petition before dozens at the Surfside Beach town hall. Young raised several concerns about the election process during the hearing.

Young raised issue with Town Clerk Debra Herrmann, whom he said overstepped her duties. She initially declared there would not be a runoff election, but later reversed and said there would be an additional vote.

Election Chairwoman Judy Engelhard said the commission did not feel Hermann overstepped and statements she made came from the commission.

Engelhard said the comments about not having a runoff were based on unofficial totals. But, once there was more data it was decided there needed to be another vote.

Only two commission members participated on Friday. Jennifer Courtney abstained.

Some of Young’s other concerns centered around write-in candidate Scoles. She did not meet the filing deadline to be a traditional candidate and was not listed as one on the ballot. But, she was an approved write-in candidate.

Young presented evidence that the ballot could have allowed someone to write-in the same person’s name three times and that candidate would receive three votes.

However, the commission and Horry County officials reviewed the votes cast and no candidate received more than one write-in vote on a ballot.

Young also raised issue with how the town determined if a candidate received a majority of votes. State code requires the total number of votes divided by the number of candidates to determine a majority.

But, neither state code nor city ordinance defines the term “candidate” and who qualifies as one. That caused confusion with Scoles and whether she should be counted in the equation. She was not a traditional candidate, but was an approved write-in challenger.

Engelhard admitted there was confusion because of the term and hopes the town council or state legislature can provide guidance in the future.

Despite the confusion, the commission declined to change the runoff election.

“We did not find reason to grant the protest,” Engelhard said.

Young said he didn’t expect to change the result, but was hoping to make improvements to future elections.