School board spot to go to write-in candidate

147874 articles in the archive and more added every day

School board spot to go to write-in candidate

By KATE CERVE kcerve@beaufortgazette.com 843-706-8177
Published Monday, September 6, 2010   |  629 Words  |  news/local

Scott Marshall doesn't know when Beaufort County voters last faced an election in which no candidate's name appeared on the ballot for an open seat.
Nobody else in his office remembers, either.
"It's not a real common occurrence in Beaufort County," said Marshall, executive director of the Beaufort County Board of Elections and Voter Registration. "I don't have anyone on staff that can remember that happening."
But it will Nov. 2.
The only person who filed to represent Hilton Head Island's District 2 on the Beaufort County Board of Education did not have enough valid signatures to make the ballot.
That means the election probably will be won by a write-in candidate. A space will be on the ballot to write in any name, and the candidate who receives the most votes will win.
Julie Bell, who filed for the seat, said she hopes to win as a write-in candidate. She thought she had submitted enough signatures to get her name on the ballot, but about 50 of them were invalid. Signatures must be from registered voters who live in the candidate's district.
"It's just a little hiccup, and I'm going to keep going," said Bell, a 38-year resident of Beaufort County who works as the county's membership director for Girl Scouts of Eastern South Carolina.
Bell said she is encouraging voters to write in her name and plans a mailing to remind people in October.
Although write-in elections are unusual in Beaufort County, they do occur in other places throughout the state, said Chris Whitmire, spokesman for the State Election Commission. It typically happens in elections for boards that are difficult to fill, such as a soil and water conservation district, he said.
"With a school board, you usually don't have that problem," he said.
Whitmire said that in those situations, it's best if people declare themselves as write-in candidates and campaign for the seat. That reduces the likelihood of a few votes for several different candidates, which could result in a tie, or electing someone who doesn't want to serve or isn't qualified.
Historically, write-in spaces have inspired voters to cast ballots for nonsense candidates, such as Mickey Mouse.
That occasionally happens in Beaufort County, Marshall said. He recalls seeing a write-in vote for "a box of rocks" in a recent municipal election.
"We have voters with a sense of humor sometimes," he said.
Bob Arundell, who currently holds the District 2 seat but is not seeking a second term, said he isn't surprised more candidates didn't file. He said constant disagreements and public arguments between school board members and Beaufort County Council over school budgets make the job sound unappealing.
"It doesn't surprise me, given the attitude of certain members of County Council, that people would not be excited about running for school board," he said. "... It's a thankless job, and so many people told me that when I decided to run."
It's also time-consuming, said Pam Edwards, who held the seat from 1999 to 2006.
"It's not just two meetings a month," she said. "You have to travel to Beaufort, and it's just a lot more than that."
Edwards offered another possible explanation why more people didn't file -- they might be satisfied with the school district's direction. She said there was a lot of tension on the board in the first part of the decade, a result of high turnover of superintendents, overcrowding at Bluffton schools and the debate about whether and where to build Whale Branch High School in northern Beaufort County.
"I think they found a good superintendent, and there's been some stability," Edwards said. "A lot of the north-area high school drama is over with."