On Monday, the town of Atlantic Beach held its first public council meeting in nearly four months, with two former councilwomen, who the town said didn't win the November election, sitting on council.
Unlike the majority of America, Atlantic Beach held two elections in November - one on November 5th with Patricia Bellamy as the Municipal Election Commissioner, and one on November 12th with Joe Montgomery as the Municipal Election Commissioner.
After the November 12th election, which the town's mayor and manager recognized as the official election, Atlantic Beach declared Lenearl Evans and Ken McLaurin the winners of two open council seats formerly held by Carolyn Cole and Windy Price.
Both Cole and Price then filed a lawsuit to overturn the election, saying the entire thing was illegal since Patricia Bellamy's election commission was never formally dismissed, according to Bellamy.
So who should be on council? It's now a decision for the court.
"There's not really an official capacity for which the State Election Commission recognizes either one of those as the official election. And that's because the State Election Commission has no real involvement or authority over that election or involvement in that election. We don't certify it, we don't hear protests associated with it, so there's not an event or action we take that says this is the official one," Chris Whitmire, State Election Commission Spokesperson said.
Whitmire said Atlantic Beach has its own Municipal Election Commission, and it's ultimately responsible for certifying all election results.
As for which group, the one led by Bellamy or the one led by Montgomery, is the real Municipal Election Commission, the town is supposed to decide that.
"The State Election Commission does provide training. It provides training to municipal election officials. The State Election Commission did provide training to the Municipal Election Commission there with the chairman as Mr. Montgomery, and that was requested by the town on behalf of the town manager, Mr. Booker," Whitmire said.
So why are Cole and Price still sitting on council? They have to until the lawsuits are settled in court- which can take months.
"When an election result is protested and appealed, it goes to the Municipal Election Commission, then to Circuit Court and then it can go to the Supreme Court. While that protest and appeal process is going on, everyone stays in place. So whoever is in the office in question remains in office, and the candidates don't take those offices until this is all settled," Whitmire said.
Whitmire said he's never seen any other situation like this in South Carolina.
"Atlantic Beach certainly has a unique and different election environment. History goes back many years, there have been various protests and court cases that have gone to the Supreme Court. At one point, the Supreme Court ordered Horry County and the State Election Commission to conduct an election in the town of Atlantic Beach to make sure that it was conducted properly. So if you have the Supreme Court ordering state and county election officials to come in and conduct your election, that shows that the court wasn't satisfied or wasn't sure that the town was able to conduct a fair, impartial and good election," Whitmire said.
Atlantic Beach Mayor Jake Evans chose not to comment on the situation.
WPDE NewsChannel 15 also attempted to contact the two election winners, Evans and McLaurin, who have yet to respond.