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Recount shows massive error in Jasper voting

RIDGELAND: 1,500 phantom votes were cast in last week's election.

By Mark Kreuzwieser
Carolina Morning News

The bad news about Jasper County's June 8 primary is that every candidate lost votes in a recount late Thursday and early Friday, but the good news - for the winners anyway - is that the political outcomes were unchanged.

Election officials now say that 1,500 votes certified June 10 were phantoms, ballots never cast by Jasper County voters.

Dozens of Jasper County citizens listened incredulously Thursday night as county Election Commission members told the Democratic Party executive committee that 298 people signed in to vote June 8 in a Ridgeland precinct, yet certified results showed hundreds more ballots cast.

Some 521 people voted in the Ridgeland 1 precinct's County Council Pocotaligo race, according to the Election Commission's original election certification on June 10. Some 432 voted in the council's Hardeeville race at the precinct.

And, 548 voted in the precinct for the council's at-large race.

Yet, the precinct's voter sign-in sheet shows that only 298 people actually voted there.

"Every one of them (the county's 14 precincts) needs checking," Democratic Party Executive Committee Chairman Arthur Murphy said.

Hours later, at about 2:45 a.m. Friday, officials had uncovered 1,500 votes more than the number of voters who actually signed in at polls on June 8.

When Democratic Party executive committee members heard election officials' report that the numbers were skewed, they demanded an explanation.

"Evidently, it was a (voting) machine error," Jasper Election Commission Chairman Lawrence Bowers said during candidates' protest hearings before the Democrats' county leadership at the Mary G. Ellis Executive Building in Ridgeland.

Longtime Jasper elections critic Ann Hodge stood and told the Democrat leaders that she had alerted election officials to the distorted vote numbers the day after the election.

"I have no confidence in this election," she said.

Election Commission officials said they didn't discover the discrepancy between the voter sign-in sheets and the total number of voters certified June 10 at the Ridgeland 1 precinct, which is in the Grahamville community just east of the county seat, until earlier Thursday.

Then there were conflicting versions of where the wrong number of votes showed up, on voting machines or final tally sheets on election night in the Voter Registration office.

Election Commission Vice Chairwoman Barbara Pinckney said Friday she doesn't know where the 1,500 phantom votes came from.

"But they didn't change outcomes or the percentages," she said.

But, in fact, they did in at least one race - the County Council at-large seat between incumbent Gladys Jones and challengers Samuel Gregory and D.P. Lowther. The original certification showed Jones ahead in votes and locked in a Tuesday runoff with Gregory. Without the false votes, the results showed Gregory in the lead, closely followed by Jones. The two still will be in a runoff Tuesday.

"We couldn't figure out how the Election Commission came up with the wrong number of votes," Murphy said Friday. "We looked at tapes from the voting machines and the (voter) sign-in books, and they matched."

While the Democrat leaders declined to uphold protests by incumbent County Council members Barbara Clark and Paul Max Malphrus, Murphy said he's upset with the way the election went.

"I feel for the people who run and work hard to win, and then we get these types of machine errors or human errors," he said. "I hope we can get these elections straightened out so that people can feel they can have a fair election."

The Democrat leaders also declined to pursue a dispute over 280 absentee ballots that the Election Commission had challenged and thrown out.

Clark said she will continue her protest of the election to the state Democratic Party Executive Committee, which will have hearings today in Columbia.

"There is just too much that went wrong and was done wrong in that election," she said.

Malphrus said he is not continuing his protest.

"I got some results (from his protest hearing), but I still don't think the election was right," he said Friday. "I got a recount and that's all I really wanted. I wasn't asking for a new election - I've lost my interest in county politics."

LeRoy Blackshear defeated Clark for County Council, and Fred Tuten beat Malphrus, who is council vice chairman.

On the absentee ballot question, the Democrats initially wanted the Election Commission to count the 280 absentee ballots that had been thrown out because they were improperly applied for.

Election Commission members, however, stood firm and said they would not count them.

Registration Director Cathy Morgan told the Democrat leaders she had been told by the commission how to handle requests for absentee ballot applications. Bowers looked at her and said, "Just stand up there and lie."

"I'm under oath" to testify at the Democrats' hearing, Morgan replied. "You can call me whatever you want."

Rivers victory upheld

Curtis Brantley, challenger to incumbent state House District 122 Rep. Thayer Rivers, lost his election protest and request for another election before the state Democratic Party Executive Committee in Columbia on Thursday.

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