Judge denies Atlantic Beach councilwoman's election appeal

Atlantic Beach councilwoman Windy Price lost her appeal of the results of the May 22 election, in which she lost her bid for mayor of Atlantic Beach.

Price protested days after the election in front of the Horry County Election Commission. When her protest was denied, she appealed to the Court of Common Pleas.

The May 22, 2012 election was held after the November 2011 election results were thrown out by the Atlantic Beach Election Commission.

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley ordered Horry County to oversee the election in Atlantic Beach because the town's election commission had failed to set a new election.

Judge J. Derham Cole heard Price's appeal last month.

In her appeal, Price argued against the governor ordering the May 22 election. The Horry County Election Commission refused to hear that challenge at Price's protest hearing on May 25, saying the reviewing of that order was "beyond its jurisdiction." In his decision to deny Price's appeal, Judge Cole agreed with the commission.

Price argued federal election laws were violated with respect to the pre-clearance of the election. As part of the Civil Right's Voting Act, all changes to South Carolina elections must be approved by the Department of Justice because of the state's history of disenfranchising minorities. The Justice Department cleared the election on June 11, several weeks after the election. It is not uncommon for this to occur. The Horry County Election Commission refused to hear Price's appeal of the pre-clearance issue because issues of federal law cannot be raised during a protest hearing. In his decision to deny Price's appeal, Judge Cole agreed with the commission.

Price complained that public notice of the election was not posted in the town where the election was held. Notice of the election was sent to all residents and printed in The Sun News. Judge Cole ruled that the commission was not required by law to post the election in Atlantic Beach.

In reference to Price's complaint that she didn't receive adequate notice of the May 25 protest hearing, Judge Cole ruled she received adequate notification.

Price complained about the counting of the votes. Judge Cole said her complaints were based largely on "unsubstantiated allegations." He said they do not support overturning the election.

Finally, Price cited issues of "voter intimidation" and "secrecy of the ballot" issues." There was no testimony from any witnesses and no evidence aside from generalized allegations, according to court paperwork.

Judge Cole found the Horry County Election Commission did not commit an error of law in denying Price's protest and upholding the May 22 election results.

Incumbent Mayor Retha Pierce lost her appeal earlier this month.

Jake Evans, who won the election, has been waiting to take office once the appeal process has been exhausted.

The judgement filed in court by Judge Cole highlighted the continuing problems seen with elections in Atlantic Beach, stating:

"Controversies involving election and elections protests in the Town of Atlantic Beach are not new to the courts of this state. The South Carolina Supreme Court has noted that it "has unfortunately become familiar with the Town of Atlantic Beach's municipal elections, and the dispute that inevitably accompany them.""

The state supreme court has previously questioned whether elections or elections protests can even be conducted in Atlantic Beach without direct monitoring by the State Election Commission.

We are waiting to find out if Pierce and Price have any plans to appeal their cases further.