Precinct fix removes Jasper County school board member from ballot

rheaton@beaufortgazette.comAugust 24, 2012 

A Jasper County school board member got a surprise in the mail this month -- a new voter-registration card indicating she didn't live in the district she has represented since 2008.

After a call to county officials to check on the change, she also learned she would not be able to run for reelection in November.

Pamela Williams lives on Jenkins Avenue -- the dividing line between two precincts that are in different districts. Though she hasn't moved, and precinct and district lines haven't changed, when Jasper County elections officials checked boundaries, they discovered maps of that road -- and voters' assignments -- had been incorrect for years.

Williams has some suspicions, though.

She's been a vocal opponent of the Jasper County School District's school consolidation in recent months and contends that some community members don't want her back on the board.

Jasper County elections officials say the change was not made to slight Williams but to correct a long-standing mistake.

The problem was discovered during the June primary elections, according to Jeanine Bostick, director of the county's Board of Elections. Some voters' names didn't appear in the books at the polling places where they went to vote, Bostick said. It happened so frequently, Bostick said she decided to take a closer look at precinct lines and voter registration information.

She worked with the S.C. Office of Research and Statistics over the summer and discovered that about 50 voters' precincts had been misidentified.

Williams is one of those. Even-numbered houses on Jenkins Avenue are actually part of the Levy precinct, not the Hardeeville one. More important to Williams' reelection bid to District 8, she and the other voters are now part of the county's District 9. The law requires school board members to live in the district they represent.

About 16 other voters on Jenkins Road also were incorrectly assigned, Bostick said. The discovery is likely due to the county switching a few years ago to E-911 addresses, which better identify homes' exact locations. The previous route numbers made it unclear which side of the street homes were on.

The discovery was made after Williams filed for re-election to her Jasper County School District Board of Trustees seat. Williams turned in her petition before the July 15 deadline and had enough signatures to be on the ballot.

Discovering that voters have been included in wrong precincts isn't uncommon, a spokesman for the S.C. Election Commission said.

"Counties find those from time to time," Chris Whitmire said.

Although he acknowledged it's rare an elected official would be affected by a precinct fix, he wasn't sure if anything could be done to put Williams back on the ballot.

The discovery means there's no candidate for the District 8 school board seat.

Williams could potentially take the District 9 seat, though it's not open for election. School board member Barbara Clark, who represents District 9, is running for Jasper County Council. If elected, a special election would be held to fill Clark's seat. Williams could run in that election, Bostick said.

But Williams said she wants to review the maps elections officials are citing, and plans to contact the U.S. Department of Justice and several other agencies for help.

"You have people who have lived on that road all of their lives and voted in that precinct all of their lives," she said. "Why this year? Why section off just 12 or 14 houses. I just don't understand it."

The state Office of Research and Statistics said precinct lines haven't changed in Jasper County since 1999, and school board district lines are the same as when they were drawn in the late 1990s.

"I mean, I felt bad (about it)," said Bostick, who has been elections director since 2004. "But I can't let her run for a district she's not in."

Related content

  1. Details emerge in Jasper County school-consolidation plans; June 26, 2012
  2. Some Jasper school board members push to overturn consolidation; June 15, 2012

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