A county board has dismissed a challenge of Cynthia Bensch's election to the Beaufort County Council, refusing to overturn the results of her 47-point victory over questions about her residency.
Beaufort County's Board of Elections and Registration ruled Monday that Bensch's challenger for the District 7 seat, Dan Duryea, failed to prove Bensch did not live in her district on Election Day, as state law requires, even though the first-time office-holder acknowledged occasionally spending nights at a rented home outside her district.
Duryea, a petition candidate who ran against Bensch Nov. 6 for the newly drawn seat, said he will appeal to the S.C. Elections Commission.
"I congratulated her," Duryea said after the 5-0 vote. "But I intend to exhaust any appeal process. This is going to the state."
The county's board of elections is a nine-person panel, although at least one seat is vacant and other officials did not attend money's hearing.
Bensch declined to comment after the decision.
She maintained throughout the campaign that her legal residence, after she and her husband left their rented home on Crabtree Lane in July, was her son's home on Martingale West on Rose Hill's north side.
Bensch told the elections board that a home in Eagle's Pointe, which is District 6, was where she conducted her campaign and stored belongings that wouldn't fit at her son's Rose Hill home. Her husband rented the home, she said, and she liked to stay there with him.
"That is not my legal residence," she argued. "That is a place my husband signed a lease for because all our things will not fit at 29 Martingale West."Duryea challenged that assertion in a protest filed last week, which asked that the election results be tossed out and a new election called. At the hearing, Duryea and his attorney, Jim Bannon, presented a phone book listing from July showing the Bensch's lived on Muirfield Drive in Eagle's Pointe. He also offered a recent Rose Hill directory that omitted Cynthia Bensch's name, among other evidence.
Bensch's apparent lack of a Rose Hill "resident" car decal -- she has a "relative" sticker -- also called her residency claim into question, Bannon argued.
"This is what I think is going on. ... She snuck in this 29 Martingale West address trying to deflect attention, and before she takes office, she has managed to find another place to rent to move back into District 7," Bannon argued.
Bensch, who spent four years on the S.C. Elections Commission, produced a driver's license, voter registration information, bank records and other documents listing the Martingale West home as her "legal residence."
Bensch testified that she always intended to stay at the Crabtree Lane home, and only left after their landlord sold it. That chain of events, she argued, proved she always intended to stay in the district.
She also produced a lease signed last month indicating she will move to Hampton Hall next month.
Both sides were allowed to call witnesses during the three-hour hearing, which allowed Bensch to question Duryea and his wife, Tammy. Bannon cross-examined Bensch.
Bensch attempted to question a reporter from The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette under oath, a request denied by the board after some consideration.
She told the board newspapers were biased against her during the campaign. The paper's endorsement of Duryea was evidence, she said.
"I believe they had every intention of influencing this election for Mr. Duryea," she said.