Above: Beaufort Mayor Stephen Murray checks with other council members to see if they have any questions before moving on to the next topic during City Council’s regular meeting Tuesday night. Photo by Bob Sofaly.
By Mike McCombs
By a unanimous 5-0 vote, Beaufort City Council voted to remove Helen Spalding from the city’s Election Commission at Tuesday night’s meeting.
Spalding’s presence on the commission came into question with her involvement in organizing the Audit The SC 2020 Vote Rally held Aug. 30 at the Olde Beaufort Golf Club, as well as a Sept. 7 meeting in Hilton Head.
She publicized the rally before and afterward on her social media pages, and her email address was listed on a flier advertising the event as the RSVP contact.
Title 7, Chapter 13, Section 7-13-75 of the S.C. Code states, “No member of a county or municipal board of voter registration and elections may participate in political management or in a political campaign over whose election the member has jurisdiction during the member’s term of office. No member may make a contribution to a candidate or knowingly attend a fundraiser held for the benefit of a candidate over whose election the member has jurisdiction. Violation of this section subjects the member to removal by the Governor or appropriate appointive authority.”
After Councilman Neil Lipsitz moved to remove Spalding from the commission, and Mitch Mitchell seconded, City Attorney William Harvey addressed the Council.
“I have reviewed the videos of the political event that occurred on Aug. 30 in which Lin Wood thanked Helen Spalding for organizing the event. We also have the advertisement for the political event on Sept. 7, once again organized by Helen Spalding,” Harvey said. “It is my opinion that these advertised political activities constitute political management, which is prohibited by state law to be conducted by a member of the Election Commission. No one is saying that Ms. Spalding cannot engage in these political activities and cannot organize or manage these political rallies, but under restriction of the state statute, she cannot do so as a member of the City Election Commission.”
There were no public comments made before Mayor Stephen Murray called for the vote. Spalding did not attend the meeting.
Harvey said that he believed the decision was a clear one.
“In my opinion, yes. The state statute is very clear,” Harvey said. “For instance, a municipal election director can’t donate to a candidate. We’re not saying she did that here. But it also says you can not engage in political management. In my opinion, that’s what she’s done, political management.”
Harvey said there was no potential argument Spalding could have made that would have changed his opinion.
“To do what she did? And not violate the statute?” he said. “No.”
Murray said last week that he learned of Spalding’s involvement in the rally on the night of Aug. 30 and said he felt “disappointment.” He said he conveyed that message in a phone conversation with Spalding later in the week.
He had also admitted then that this outcome could be a possibility after the Council heard legal advice in executive session this week, prior to the regular meeting.
According to the City of Beaufort website, “Members of the Beaufort Elections Commission assist at polling places in the City of Beaufort during elections. They also are present during the certification of votes. The commission is comprised of two members, who serve a term of six years. The board meets twice a year. The commission coordinates with the Beaufort County Board of Voter Registration & Elections.”
Now the commission has a vacancy. Murray said there is not a timetable for the spot to be filled.
Mike McCombs is the editor of The Island News and can be reached at TheIslandNews@gmail.com.