Is Bike Fest being used to avoid an election?

"There will be no election in the town of Atlantic Beach on May 22nd," said Atlantic Beach Mayor Retha Pierce.

Pierce objects to Governor Nikki Haley's mandate that the town hold an election on May 22nd, saying the governor doesn't have the authority.

Pierce accused Haley of bypassing the law.

When told the Governor has the authority to set an election, Pierce said, "She has no absolute power to break the law."

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... he (the Governor) shall, should the law not otherwise provide for this contingency, order an election or a new election."

Pierce disagreed.

"I'd like to say to the Governor, 'Retha Pierce from Atlantic Beach, the mayor. You out stepped your boundary there to come in and do such a thing without having some input from the Mayor.'"

Tuesday, Atlantic Beach Town Council members decided to start its annual motorcycle rally a week earlier, holding it from May 18th to May 28th, but Councilman Jake Evans thinks that's an effort to avoid holding an election.

"That is exactly what the extension was for," said Evans. "To say 'oh it's too crowded to have an election during Bike Fest'."

At Tuesday's meeting, Atlantic Beach Mayor Retha Pierce told us she decided to make the change because the Department of Health and Environmental Control doesn't inspect food vendors for 3-day festivals. She said she then decided to move to a 4-day festival in order to get the inspections. But when she learned DHEC allowed for the inspection to cover up to 14 days, she decided to do 11 days instead.

Evans says even though he thinks the Bike Fest extension is a ploy to undermine the election, he voted for it in the hopes that people could make money.

"I believe Bike Fest should happen because it's the only chance for poor little land owners to make money," said Evans. "If you remember, we weren't going to have Bike Fest. Then, they said lets extend it to two weeks. How do you go from not having it to lets extend it? The fact is that Atlantic Beach's corrupt election commission is trying to block the election, and they want to win it for their candidates."

In the November 2011 election, Evans beat Pierce and councilwoman Windy Price for the mayor's seat. Price and another candidate, Misty Umphries, appealed the election. The town's election commission sided with them, and the election was thrown out.

But the election commission failed to set a new election. So, in March, the governor's office stepped in, set the May 22nd election day, and ordered Horry County to oversee it.

Horry County spokesperson Lisa Bourcier told us Atlantic Beach has informed the county that its community center, where elections are normally held, is already booked for May 22nd.

Evans said the town has nothing scheduled in the community center on May 22nd and called it another attempt to thwart the election.

"They are just coming up with excuses," said Evans. "That Tuesday of the election, even during Bike Fest, there will be no one here. If they think they can stop the governor's order and stop the state from having an election they have another thing coming."

Still, Horry County has to look for another location, which must then be approved by the Department of Justice before an election can be held, said Bourcier.

This will be the 32nd annual Bike Fest in Atlantic Beach. It was started by The Carolina Knight Riders Club as a small gathering of motorcycle fans. It exploded into a huge street festival that attracted close to a half-million people in the 90's. The festival was plagued with bad publicity as many attendees engaged in lewd behavior. Because traffic is a problem during the festival, some businesses would close during Bike Fest. The NAACP sued in 2003, and those businesses opened back up for future Bike Fests.