Online campaign pushing Chavis as write-in candidate
By Samantha Lyles
When Darlington County Sheriff Tony Chavis lost the June 9 Democratic primary race to challenger James Hudson by nearly a thousand votes, the definitive margin of victory left no room to question who would represent the party in the Nov. 3 general election.
But that defeat didn’t totally end Chavis’ hopes to retain his office.
Just one week after the primary, a Facebook page called “Friends to Write In Tony Chavis” appeared online and began urging voters to support the first-term sheriff as a write-in candidate.
One post called on historical precedent, noting that Strom Thurmond won the 1954 U.S. Senate campaign as a write-in candidate. Thurmond, however, declared as a Democratic write-in candidate because the party’s de facto nominee – state Sen. Edgar Brown – was not chosen by voters but selected by a star chamber of party insiders when unopposed incumbent Sen. Burnet Maybank suddenly died.
Other posters expressed frustration over why they could not vote for a Democratic candidate for sheriff after requesting a Republican primary ballot.
According to state law, South Carolina has nonpartisan registration and open primaries. There is no option to affiliate with a political party on the voter registration form, and voters don’t have to affiliate with a party in order to vote in primaries. However, voters must choose one party’s ballot, and switching back and forth between ballots is not allowed.
Chavis himself did not respond to our requests for comment. He has not publicly endorsed the write-in campaign, as such action would violate South Carolina statute 7-11-210. It reads as follows:
“SECTION 7-11-10. Methods of nominating candidates. Nominations for candidates for the offices to be voted on in a general or special election may be by political party primary, by political party convention, or by petition; however, a person who was defeated as a candidate for nomination to an office in a party primary or party convention shall not have his name placed on the ballot for the ensuing general or special election, except that this section does not prevent a defeated candidate from later becoming his party’s nominee for that office in that election if the candidate first selected as the party’s nominee dies, resigns, is disqualified, or otherwise ceases to become the party’s nominee for that office before the election is held.”
On March 16, Chavis signed and filed a pledge to abide by this statute.
The News & Press asked Darlington County Elections and Registrations director Hoyt Campbell about the odds that a Chavis write-in campaign could succeed. Campbell replied that in order to win in the general election, a candidate must take a plurality of the vote, which means the margin of victory can be as little as one vote.
In the 2012 and 2016 general elections, Darlington County’s total voter turnout was around 30,000, meaning that for Chavis to challenge Hudson (the Democratic nominee) and Michael August (the Republican nominee, unopposed in the primary), he might need to secure around 12,000 votes.
Campbell says that while nothing is impossible, he has never known a write-in campaign to beat such uphill odds. In fact, he notes that the July 14 special election win by Mary Ann Mack for Lamar Town Council is the first successful write-in campaign he’s personally seen. Mack secured 86 votes, and her two opponents received 51 votes between them.
At this point, the Friends to Write In Tony Chavis campaign is still active, making regular posts online, sending out fliers, and even distributing leftover official campaign merchandise.
Campbell says that he has inquired with state election officials about how to handle the campaign and received approval to count any write-in votes cast for Chavis in the November general election.