By Sunny Fry
For a state consumed at present about a voter ID law, pushed for the ostensible purpose of insuring against voter fraud and preserving the integrity of elections, surprisingly little has been done concerning the big red neon light flashing over a local town.
Imagine, if you will ...
... Myrtle Beach holds an election for Mayor and Council. We'll call one of those candidates for Mayor "Bubba." The turnout is overwhelming, a statistical record in terms of voter participation for the city. Then, at the hearing to certify the election, 1/3 of the votes are thrown out for questions of residency, despite many of those the voters being longtime, known residents of Myrtle Beach, and despite them having presented not only a valid voter registration card, but -- this seems pertinent -- a photo ID besides. Imagine that nearly all those discarded ballots were challenged by one person, a person who actively campaigned against Bubba, and for the other candidates. Further imagine that the Chairperson of the Myrtle Beach Election Commission, which determines which votes to accept and reject, is a co-plaintiff with some of the candidates and sitting Council members -- not Bubba -- in lawsuits against Myrtle Beach.
Still, imagine even after those votes are thrown out, Bubba is the clear winner of the mayoral contest, with nearly 1/3 again as many votes as the combined totals of the two other candidates. The election is certified, and Bubba is declared the winner.
But two days later, protests from the losing candidates mean we're back in front of the same Election Commission. After a 9 hour hearing, where there are allegations that something must have been wrong with a machine, that a strange person was wandering around for some period of time, and that large numbers of anonymous (but purportedly legitimate) voters were too intimidated to cast their votes, the entire election was thrown out. And the Myrtle Beach Election Commission promises a new election within six months -- a very long time, given the big question hanging in the air -- but gives no date. In the interim, the sitting Mayor and Council continue to serve, and Bubba can't be Mayor. Poor Bubba.
Now imagine that in the interim, between that overturned election and whatever unspecified date of a new election -- for more than 111 days -- that sitting Mayor and Council busy themselves settling their own and other lawsuits against Myrtle Beach, with more on the horizon -- at least one possible lawsuit large enough to consume half Myrtle Beach's annual budget, and that's without factoring some fairly generous attorneys fees. And all while publicly bemoaning the confused state of Myrtle Beach's finances, such that even months after they were originally seated, they just can't sort it all out. And four months in, still no word on a firm date for a new election.
Hard to imagine, isn't it?
But that pretty much sums up what's happened, and is continuing to happen, in Atlantic Beach.
Of course, it's impossible to see from a distance exactly what is happening in that small town, and given its size, it is -- perhaps -- a separate issue that Council members, their families, and at least one Election Commissioner are operating as co-plaintiffs in various suits against the Town. Everybody has a right to redress of grievances, and the desire for that redress should not preclude public service in a quest to be made whole.
But these facts remain.
That fully 1/3 of ballots cast were disallowed, even when news reports showed those disqualified voters with what appeared to be valid voter registration cards and picture IDs. That is a big red flag, raising reasonable questions about possible collusion on one side to overturn a legitimate result, or proportionately massive and organized voter fraud on the other.
That there were allegations of intimidation, sufficient to make a statistically meaningful number of anonymous people too frightened to even go to the polls -- which, if true, is an egregious violation of federal election law, again proportionately orders of magnitude worse than the New Black Panthers at one polling station for some shortish period of time during a presidential contest.
That there were allegations of a flawed machine, manipulated to give votes to only one candidate -- which, if true, means a borrowed machine used in other County elections may be defective or subject to manipulation. This doesn't only skew the results in Atlantic Beach, but casts doubt on a past and future elections, which we all understand MUST be widely perceived as legitimate.
That nobody knows who the unidentified person in the Community Center was, or what effect, if any, she had on the process.
Even assuming every player in this imbroglio is acting in good faith -- and it's possible -- and that the errors, omissions, and the Town's failure to comply with various FOIA requests, are all simply due to a small town with limited means and limited personnel, the questions raised aren't just about Atlantic Beach. The questions come down to the importance of not only the legitimacy of an election, but the public perception of legitimacy.
All the people in Atlantic Beach have asked for is another election. The League of Women Voters has apparently volunteered to help oversee the process, as disinterested third parties familiar with the rules governing elections. It is within the Governor's authority to order a new election.
One would hope a Governor, in a state garnering national headlines for what purports to be a deep concern for legitimacy of the election process itself, would move quickly to address these issues. In fact, because we are talking about what everyone understands is an historically African-American township, such action would go a long way toward demonstrating the sincerity of that stated objective. Lacking such attention, all the noble sounding speeches about preserving the integrity of state elections start ringing a little hollow.
As a wise friend noted to me recently, "Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere."