Darlington voters send six to runoff election

City of Darlington voters went to the polls for Election Day Nov. 3 and narrowed a slate of four mayoral candidates down to two, and winnowed a field of twelve city council candidates down to four.

Voters cast a total of 448 ballots for Gloria Hines and 421 for Jim Stone, moving those two mayoral contenders into a Nov. 17 runoff to take the city’s top elected office.

The top four vote getters among city council candidates were John Milling (620 votes), Diane Sigmon (532 votes), Carolyn Bruce (516 votes) and Bryant Gardner (485 votes). These four will contend for three available at-large council seats in the Nov. 17 runoff, with the top three taking office.

Competition for the hearts and minds of Darlington voters will be fierce, and candidates would do well to remind citizens that they are eligible to vote – either in person or via absentee ballot – provided the current elections rules are observed.

“Any voter that is a registered voter in the City of Darlington is eligible to vote in this runoff,” says Hoyt Campbell, director of Elections and Registration for Darlington County.

If you were registered to vote at least 30 days before the November 3 election, you are eligible, regardless of whether or not you voted Nov. 3.

Campbell says that a runoff can sometimes stymie candidates who received large support in the first round of elections because their voting base takes it for granted that their candidate will carry the day with ease. Not so, says Campbell, observing that hustle and effort can sometimes move a candidate from the bottom of the tally sheet right into office.

“In the run off, everybody starts at zero. Sometimes the top man from the previous vote can lose and the low man becomes the winner,” says Campbell.

Absentee ballots can comprise a significant chunk of candidate support. Hines received 181 absentee votes and Stone garnered 152. Campbell says absentee ballots are often cast by voters unable to physically present themselves at their precinct, whether that’s due to illness or work schedules or vacation plans. Absentee voters must fill out their ballot and turn in a permission form to the voter registration office, either in person or through a chosen representative not professionally affiliated with any candidate.

Darlington County voting law on this matter is as follows:

“The absentee ballot application form may be requested by the voter himself, a member of his/her immediate family or by the authorized representative of voter. The voter or a member of his immediate family may request the application in person, by telephone or by mail. A voter’s authorized representative must request an absentee ballot application in person or by mail only, and must himself be a registered voter and must sign an oath to the effect that he fits the statutory definition of such a representative.

Authorized representatives are registered electors who, with a voter’s permission, act for a voter unable to go to the polls because of illness or disability resulting in his confinement in a hospital, sanitarium, nursing home, or place of residence; or a voter unable because of physical disability to go to his polling place, or because of such disability unable to vote at his polling place due to existing architectural barriers which deny him physical access to the polling place, voting booth or voting apparatus.

A candidate or member of a candidate’s paid campaign staff, including volunteers reimbursed for time expended on campaign activity, may not request an absentee ballot application for any person unless the person is a member of their immediate family.”

Despite an early surge in voter numbers in these Darlington races, polls slowed down later in the day and total turnout was somewhat less than expected.

“I was a little disappointed in the Darlington turnout, and I was terribly disappointed in the Hartsville turnout,” says Campbell.

In Hartsville, two races for city council barely cleared one hundred total votes. Bernice Wilson defeated opponent Christopher Shirley by a count of 88 to 11, and current Hartsville City Council member Billy Shirley defeated challenger Casey Copeland by just one vote. The final count of 53 to 52 was upheld after a recount and a protest from the Copeland campaign.

Despite the rainy weather, just over 1,600 voters turned out in Darlington out of about 4,000 active voters.
“I had expected about 1,800 voters… I thought we’d have at least that amount considering the amount of people running. We’ll probably have a good turnout for the run off, though it probably won’t be as many (as Nov. 3),” says Campbell.

Turnout percentages for the various City of Darlington voting districts were as follows:

District #1: 31.69 %
District #2: 20.48 %
District #3: 38.88 %
District #4: 38.43 %
District #5: 33.55 %
District #6: 17.51 %

Winners in the Nov. 17 runoffs will be sworn into office at the first Darlington City Council meeting in January of 2016. Should Hines – a current city council member – win the office of mayor, a special election would be held to fill that vacant council seat 13 weeks after her swearing-in ceremony.

To check your current voting precinct, get polling locations, or for more information, visit the Elections and Registrations office at 131 Cashua Street in Darlington, or call 843-398-4900.

Author: Jana Pye

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