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Recount shrinks Mickle’s win

Posted: November 15, 2012 5:24 p.m.
Updated: November 16, 2012 5:00 a.m.

Bobby Gary

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Ballot variations initiated a recount in the Kershaw County Council District 1 race Wednesday, allowing Willie Mickle’s win to be confirmed, but by a smaller margin, while also drawing concern and frustration from incumbent Councilman Bobby Gary.

According to Kershaw County Voter Registration Director Rosalind Watson, the ballot variation affected absentee votes and likely occurred due to differences in the spelling of Gary’s name in the balloting software. All absentee votes in the race, Watson said, were split into two ballot styles, but the programmable electronic ballots (PEBs) used to upload voting data from polling machines likely experienced a problem due to the spelling variations. PEBs for one of two particular absentee ballot styles did not tally the votes correctly, consequently leaving 764 absentee votes uncounted during the initial election tally. 

On Election Night, it was believed Mickle won the race by 162 votes. Watson said the election commission and voter registration office then certified the election Nov. 9. That weekend, Nov. 10 and 11, Watson performed an audit of the final tally to formally reconfirm the results. That was when she noticed the 764-vote variation in the data. After incorporating those 764 absentee votes into the total tally, the difference between Gary and Mickle was only 36 votes.

Assistant Voter Registration Director Jim Fitzpatrick said the inclusion of the new votes “prompted us to look at the results very carefully and we discovered that the 36 vote difference was within the 1 percent (differential), which is required by state law for us to recount.”

The recount, held Wednesday morning, resulted in a final separation of only 31 votes with Mickle still coming out on top.

Gary said Thursday that he understands the end result won’t likely change, but had major concerns about how the certification process unfolded for the race. 

“I was thinking that I was 162 votes short. There’s no room for margin of error there. Then I get a call that they’re going to do a recount. I’m left thinking, well how did that happen?” Gary said. “The election commission certified one thing and then had to go back and resend something else. They found out that the numbers were closer then what they thought. I thought they would have done all that when they certified it the first time.”

He indicated that he was looking into possible legal action, but was still deliberating as to the course he might take. 

“A recount is not the issue. It’s the process of not counting people’s vote correctly at the time of the certification,” he said.

Gary also said he was initially told the deadline to appeal the election was Wednesday at noon, but actually wasn’t informed of the recount’s final tally until about 2 p.m. Wednesday. He said if he sought legal action his goal would be to ensure that a better, more clarified procedure is in place for future candidates. 

Watson indicated that Election Systems & Software (ES&S), the manufacturers of the voting machine software, believed that they had pinpointed the voting error, but that they were still looking into the issue.     

“According to ES&S, they thought it was a conflict … because we brought down the system to correct the spelling of one of the candidate’s names,” Watson said. “We had Bobby Gary in as Robert Lee Gary, which is his official name, but he wanted it as Robert ‘Bobby’ Gary.”

She said the manufacturers believed shutting down the system to make the change could have “confused” the machines and consequently affected the final vote tally for Gary, specifically the number of in-person absentee votes in his favor. She noted that the state incorporated the spelling change into the voting system.

Fitzpatrick noted that the five vote change from 36 to 31 after the recount was likely the result of the misreading of paper absentee ballots.

“Some of them were possibly not reading correctly in the machine that they are put through. That could be for a variety of reasons. For example, somebody may not have darkened in a circle enough or the ballot may have been folded or crumpled and they were possibly not reading correctly through the machine,” he said.

Fitzpatrick concluded that no votes were lost or not counted and that “there is really no other recourse left.”

He said Gary had inquired about having the vote reexamined, but that both the county and state election commissions would have to be formally contacted in order to approve such a step.

However, the deadline to certify the election has already passed, Fitzpatrick said, adding “the time is running out” for Gary to appeal. He said Gary could possibly write an official appeal and deliver it to the state election commission, but would have to do so by Monday at noon.

Even if the commission receives an appeal, Fitzpatrick said that the results would still be the same.

“Willie Mickle has won county council Seat 1,” he said.


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