Senate 41 races a recipe for confusion

McConnel

Some Lowcountry Republican voters might have to cast two separate ballots on two different machines June 12 to elect a nominee for Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell’s old Senate seat.

But some of these GOP voters might only be able to vote in one race and not the other. Or the second election still could end up being canceled altogether.

“This is going to be confusing for the voters,” Charleston County GOP Chair Lin Bennett said. “It’s confusing for us to do this.”

Filing closed at noon Monday for the special election for the vacant District 41 seat. On the Democratic side, only Charleston lawyer Paul Tinkler filed. He also is seeking the seat in the Nov. 6 general election.

The GOP field is far more complicated. Fair Tax advocate John Steinberger, small businessman Wally Burbage and Sean Pike, an officer at The Citadel, are running in both the special and general elections.

The special election field also includes lawyer Walter Hunley, who is not running in the general election while former Charleston County Councilman Paul Thurmond is. Thurmond’s James Island residence is in the newly drawn Senate District 41 but not in the current one.

The GOP special election primary will be held May 29, and a runoff could be held on June 12 — the same day as the GOP primary for the general election.

If two District 41 elections are held that day, then voters eligible to vote in both will be directed to different machines, said Joseph Debney, director of the Charleston County Board of Elections and Voter Registration. “It’s not a headache,” he said. “It’s just a different situation than voters are used to.”

District 41 was redrawn this past year, so some voters — like those on Kiawah and Seabrook —will be eligible to vote only in the July 17 special election and its primary, while others — like some on James Island and southern Dorchester County —may vote only in the Nov. 6 general election and its primary.

State Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Myrtle Beach, said Monday he hopes to get a bill passed that would rewrite state election law to make a special election unnecessary if there’s only a few months left in a term.

Whoever wins the July 17 special election won’t cast a vote in the General Assembly — unless they also win the Nov. 6 general election. They will collect $1,000 a month for in-district expenses and serve at any county delegation meetings.

“It’s really quite a crazy scenario,” Clemmons said. Horry County voters face a similar special-general election quandry in House District 68 following Rep. Thad Viers’ recent resignation there.

Horry is facing about $15,000 worth of election expenses to hold a special election for an office that will have no authority, while Charleston County is

Bennett said the confusing aspects of these upcoming races aren’t on GOP voters’ radar screens yet, but she hopes the special election can be called off for clarity’s sake.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.