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Jean Felix, left, Chairperson of the Beaufort County Board of Voter Registration and Elections, goes over votes for each candidate for each office in the county during the election verification Friday, June 17. Felix said 31,059 votes were cast in the June 14 primary in Beaufort County. All were counted 100 accurately, and the vote to verify the primary election was unanimous. Photo by Bob Sofaly.

County voting results certified after state orders retabulation

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By Tony Kukulich

After completing a state-ordered retabulation of the Beaufort County 2022 primary election results, county officials certified the vote Friday afternoon, June 17.

“Out of an abundance of caution and to ensure election integrity and transparency, the South Carolina Election Commission has ordered the Beaufort County Board of Voter Registration and Elections to publicly retabulate all ballots cast in the June 14 primaries,” wrote Wm. Weston Newton, chair of the Beaufort County Legislative Delegation.

The vote certification was expected to take place Thursday when the election board was scheduled to meet for the dual purposes of validating the provisional ballots cast in the election and certifying the county vote.

The board completed a review of the 88 provisional ballots and approved 37 of them. They then recessed while those ballots were scanned and added to the vote count. The plan to certify the vote after the recess was interrupted by a phone call from the State Election Commission (SEC), explained Jean Felix, chair of the Board of Elections and Voter Registration of Beaufort County.

“During that time, we received a call,” Felix said. “For the sake of peace of mind for everybody and for election integrity, just re-tabulate. (The SEC) requested to be able to review all of the documents as a result of the re-tabulation. Once they reviewed it today after we got everything to them, they said, ‘We reviewed everything. Everything matches. We will update scvotes.gov as soon as we can. You’re free to continue.’ They wanted a review process. We’re good to go and our certification is complete.”

The re-tabulation called for by the state required that each of the 31,000 ballots cast in the election be re-scanned. The process started around 2 p.m. on Thursday and was finished by 10 a.m. Friday. Observers watched as county staff worked through the night on eight scanners to complete the task.

According to Felix, the re-tabulation matched the initial count exactly.

After a brief, 20-minute meeting during which the county’s election results were reviewed, Board Member Craig Palley put forth a motion to certify the results. The motion was seconded by Vice Chair Beverly Dove and passed by the board unanimously.

Concern over Beaufort County’s election results stemmed from the extraordinary delay the county experienced reporting election night results. The first unofficial results were distributed via email after 10 p.m., more than three hours after polls closed. It included 38 of the county’s 98 precincts. Updated results reflecting 96 precincts were distributed shortly before 1 a.m. Wednesday.

That delay caused frustration for voters and candidates alike.

“This is completely ridiculous at this point,” said Sheriff P.J. Tanner as he waited for results on election night. “This is not acceptable. It’s not acceptable for anyone. Everyone is eager to hear results, and we’re not getting anything.”

Two issues contributed to the late reporting. The first pertains to the delivery of ballots to the board’s Beaufort location. After the polls closed, voting materials were collected at sites in Beaufort, Bluffton and Hilton Head Island. They’re delivered to the county’s election headquarters by truck.

“Bluffton and Hilton Head usually aren’t even here until 10:30 or 11 at night, which was the case on election night,” Felix said.

The second factor was related to a redistricting error that impacted 16 precincts in Bluffton and on Hilton Head Island. Early voting uncovered an issue in which residents weren’t reassigned to their new districts. The problem was corrected in time for Election Day voting, but necessitated the creation of a second database to accommodate the 16 precincts. Once voting was complete, the county’s two databases had to be merged so that results could be provided to the state.

The process took nearly 24 hours to complete.

“We had no idea how extensive the merging process would be – three and four people at a time reading off numbers that had to be typed in by somebody else,” said Felix. “It was a huge feat, and that is part of what took so long. The team that was primarily responsible for that did not go home and did not sleep until it was done until 5 p.m. the next day.”

Despite the bumps in the road, county officials were certain that the final results were accurate.

“I am very confident, because I was part of that team that did the recalculation,” said Marie Smalls, director of the The Board of Voter Registration and Elections of Beaufort County. “I was proud that the staff and the board was very supportive. We just did what we needed to do because we know how important it is for us to provide accurate information. That’s what the voters want, and that’s what we want to provide. As the chairman said, we had people watching the process. It was a very transparent process.”

Tony Kukulich is a recent transplant to the Lowcountry. A native of Wilmington, Del., he comes to The Island News from the San Francisco Bay Area where he spent seven years as a reporter and photographer for several publications. He and his wife enjoy exploring their new home state. He can also frequently be found playing bass guitar with a couple of local bands. He can be reached at tony.theislandnews@gmail.com.

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