By Tony Kukulich
A hearing to determine the validity of 100 names on the Beaufort County Voter Registration and Election database was held last week after the names were challenged by county residents.
The challenge was brought by Debbie Barton, Lee Bothell and Nancy York. The women said they represented no particular group.
“It’s just a grassroots (group) of concerned citizens,” said York.
The challenge of a large number of voters is unusual, said Jean Felix, chair of the Board of Voter Registration and Elections of Beaufort County.
“This was atypical,” she said. “As a matter of fact, we kind of set the precedent. This hasn’t ever really been done before. We sent all of the information to the State Election Commission (SEC) because our understanding is that this is happening statewide. We sent what we did to the SEC so that they can better help the other counties because it’s never been done before on this scale.”
Felix believes that more challenges will be presented in the future and added that the challenges have no impact on the vote count in past elections.
“Our understanding is that, including this 100, they have 316 in total,” she said. “So there’s 216 more. That’s what they told us.”
There are approximately 140,000 registered voters in Beaufort County.
While York and Barton disavowed any connection to an organized effort, both women referred to activities and ideologies espoused by an organization known as South Carolina Safe Elections. According to that group’s website, they advocate for the elimination of electronic and absentee voting and allege that widespread voter fraud occurred in Beaufort County during the 2020 election.
“What we’re trying to do is follow what Seth Keshel (said),” York said. “There’s 10 things that he’s requested for fair and safe elections. That’s clearing out the voter rolls, that’s what we’re trying to do. Then the other nine things, they’re pretty extensive.”
Keshel was the keynote speaker at an Audit the S.C. 2020 Vote Rally on Lady’s Island in August of last year. The former U.S. Army captain asserted that the 2020 election was manipulated, causing Donald Trump to lose the national election. A link to a video of Keshel’s speech at that event appears on the South Carolina Safe Elections website.
Felix said the group dropped off a written challenge for each of the 100 names at the voter registration office.
“They were challenging the domicile, the residency of those registered voters,” Felix explained.
Upon receipt of the challenges, the county generated notices to the 100 named voters indicating that their residency had been challenged. The notice asked the recipient to confirm their current address by the May 31 response deadline. If the address was verified, the individual remained active on the voter roll. If the individual moved or was otherwise no longer associated with that address, or if the individual doesn’t respond by the May 31 deadline, the county moved them to an inactive status.
The county also scheduled a hearing for May 25 to hear the challenges brought forth by Baron, Bothell and York.
According to Felix, the county has an existing process to validate the voter rolls. If a registered voter does not vote in two consecutive general elections, a confirmation is sent to the registered address. If the respondent replies and states that the address is still their residence, the voter retains an active status. If the voter has moved or the address is invalid, the voter is moved to an inactive status.
“We never delete anyone, even if they die, off of the voter rolls,” Felix said. “They just go into an inactive status.”
The process to identify the names that would be challenged started with the purchase of the county’s voter roll at a cost of $2,500.
“A member higher up on the team bought the voter rolls,” Barton said. “They could see who voted in the 2020 election. And then we had some other person who picked up on the most suspicious addresses. We were not going door to door to door literally. We could focus on the most suspicious addresses.”
With a list of suspicious addresses in hand, volunteers started canvassing the county. If the voter registered at an address didn’t match the current resident, the group tried to collect an affidavit from the current resident asserting that the registered voter was no longer associated with the address.
At the start of the May 25 hearing, Felix asked that the board be given a copy of the evidence collected that resulted in the challenges. That request was refused by those who brought the challenges.
“It’s a bunch of folks that actually canvassed, and they are not comfortable releasing their names and their private information,” York explained after the meeting. “Out of respect to the group – I was OK handing my portion out – but out of respect to the group I am honoring that. We do have people that have been harassed and we just don’t want to take those chances.”
The refusal to provide the evidence ultimately had no impact on the process, which is based entirely on the responses to the notices mailed by the county once a challenge has been made.
“You have to present evidence to call it evidence,” Felix said. “They wouldn’t, but it didn’t really affect our process.
York stated that the goal of her involvement in the effort was to clean the data in the county’s voter roll. She said that other evidence of potential voting improprieties will be addressed after the election season.
“This is all we’re going to do for now,” York said. “Way after the election, when things kind of settle, we’ll probably get the rest of the information out.”
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 can be reached at email@example.com.