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A Free Times Guide to the Columbia City Council Elections

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Two years ago, few people seemed interested in running for Columbia City Council.

That 2017 municipal election cycle didn’t feature a race that ended up being truly competitive. Perhaps unthinkably, given that Columbia is a busy state capital, Mayor Steve Benjamin ran unopposed. So did District 4 City Councilman Daniel Rickenmann. At-large Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine was challenged by late Five Points businessman and perennial candidate Joe Azar, and District 1’s Sam Davis faced off with consultant Chris Sullivan, but both of those incumbents easily crushed their opponents in races that never felt particularly close.

A lot can change in a couple years, apparently.

Three seats are up for grabs in the Nov. 5 municipal election: The at-large — citywide — seat held by Howard Duvall, the District 2 seat held by Ed McDowell and the District 3 seat held by Moe Baddourah. In all, 10 candidates are running for the three seats.

Duvall, seeking his second term on Council, is facing three challengers: freelance interpreter and former victim’s advocacy worker Amadeo Geere, refugee services coordinator Dylan Gunnels and attorney and businesswoman Sara Middleton.

Meanwhile, Baddourah is being challenged in District 3 by construction and design firm owner Will Brennan and charter school principal John Loveday. District 3 is central and southeast Columbia, and includes neighborhoods like Rosewood, Shandon and Five Points. Baddourah is looking for a third term on Council

And in District 2, incumbent Councilman Ed McDowell is seeking a second term, and is facing off with a pair of challengers: author and activist Catherine Fleming Bruce and businesswoman Anna Fonseca. District 2 is in the central and northern portions of the city and is highlighted by longstanding, mostly African American neighborhoods such as Martin Luther King, Celia Saxon, Edgewood, Waverly and Booker Washington Heights, among others.

With election day approaching, Free Times had conversations with all 10 candidates about the issues they think are important to the city, from public safety to economic development and beyond. And it’s a municipal election that will also be notable in one other way: It will be among the first in South Carolina to utilize the state’s new paper trail voting system.

With 10 candidates spread across three races, that new system could get a healthy workout in the Capital City on Nov. 5.

2019 City of Columbia Election

The City of Columbia will hold its municipal election on Nov. 5. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. If necessary, a runoff election would be held Nov. 19. Seats up for election this year include:

At-large: Howard Duvall (incumbent), Amadeo Geere, Dylan Gunnels, Sara Middleton.

District 2: Ed McDowell (incumbent), Catherine Fleming Bruce, Anna Fonseca.

District 3: Moe Baddourah (incumbent), Will Brennan, John Loveday.

For election information, visit columbiasc.net/elections or call (803) 545-3045.

New Voting Machines to be Used in Council Election

City of Columbia voters will get a chance to use the state’s new voting system when they go to the polls in the Nov. 5 municipal election.

South Carolina had been among a small handful of states that had no paper trail for voting. Earlier this year, the state announced it would roll out a new $51 million voting system to replace the 13,000 aging, increasingly antiquated digital systems South Carolina had been using for more than a decade.

Despite some overtures from legislators about possibly returning to hand-marked, pencil-and-paper ballots, the state ultimately chose to go with a paper-and-digital system that uses a ballot marking device.

Here, basically, is how the process works: After signing in at their polling place, voters will receive a blank, white ballot card. They will then take that card and insert it into a digital touchscreen device. Voters will make their selections on the screen and, after reviewing them, hit “print card.”

At that point, the paper ballot card will emerge from the machine, with the voter’s selections — as well as a barcode — printed on it. Voters can then review their selections on the paper.

Then voters will proceed to another machine, where they will insert the ballot card. That machine will process the votes, and store the ballot cards in a bin. The bins will be locked and delivered back to county elections headquarters at the end of the night.

The new voting system was first used in a special state House race in Aiken earlier in October, but the municipal elections in Columbia and other cities across the state on Nov. 5 will be the first widespread workout for the new process.

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