Nearly four months after Atlantic Beach's general election was held and later appealed, the town has yet to set a date for a new election.
On November 1st, 2011, Atlantic Beach held elections for mayor and 2 town council seats. Two days later, Jake Evans was certified as the winner of the mayor's race, defeating incumbent Mayor Retha Pierce and Councilwoman Windy Price. Josephine Isom and Charlene Taylor were certified as town council winners, taking the seats previously held by Evans and Donell Thompson.
Just hours later, Price and Misty Umphries, who was running for one of the town council seats, appealed, claiming Evans and his supporters intimidated voters, bought votes and committed numerous other voting violations. The appeal claims the town's election commission failed to consider those violations before certifying the results.
A hearing on the appeal was held on November 5th, and the town's election commission ordered a new election saying there was evidence of fraud, intimidation, and questionable or phony voting machines. The election commission said the incumbents would remain in office until a new election could be held.
We have called Nicole Kenion, the town's Election Commission chairperson, several times over the past week to find out why a new election has not been scheduled. She has not returned our phone calls.
The election commission must send a formal appeal of the election to the Governor's office in Columbia before a new date can be set.
"There's no deadline in the law on when a new election has to be set," said South Carolina Election Commission Spokesperson Chris Whitmier. "It's understood if you overturn the election, it's best to have the election as soon as possible."
South Carolina law SECTION 7-13-1170 states, "when any election official of any political subdivision of this State... has neglected, failed, or refused to order, provide for, or hold the election at the time appointed," and goes on to say, "he (the Governor) shall, should the law not otherwise provide for this contingency, order an election or a new election."
"We are continuing to work through the legal process," said Governor Haley's spokesperson Rob Godfrey in a written statement. "Since last December we have reached out to town officials asking for the written decision from the Atlantic Beach Municipal Election Commission which invalidated council members elections held last November. We were told that the decision would be forthcoming and still have not received it."
"Our last communication from the town officials was that they would not speak with the Governor's Office until they hired a new attorney. Rather than wait on the decision we are attempting to get a copy of the transcript. While we would like to receive a written decision, if we are able to get a copy of the transcript of the hearing and it provides us with adequate information, the Governor will set a new election. Otherwise our hands our tied."
While the appeal process is being conducted by the town, Carolyn Cole continues to act as Mayor Pro Tem.
Cole declined to discuss details of the appeal, but did say she believed the election commission was working to find an attorney to get an appeal to the governor's office. Cole deferred all other questions to Kenion.
Evans believes Cole and Price are stalling and want to stay in control of the town. He said he is contemplating refusing to attend town council meetings until an election date is set.
"I'm not wanting to show up until they get this election figured out," said Evans. "They are afraid they won't have power."