Low voter turnout Tuesday in Bluffton council election; polls now closed

dburley@islandpacket.comNovember 5, 2013 

A man votes at Bluffton Library, where poll workers say that turnout has been light.

Breaking news: Larry Toomer has won a seat on the Bluffton Town Council. Candidates Michael Raymond and Fred Hamilton Jr. will enter a runoff election for the second open seat Nov. 19.

Bluffton Town Council results

Our original story is below:

Voters did not face long waits at the polls this chilly Tuesday. Poll clerks at three of Bluffton's five precincts reported a low turnout in the election for two seats on Town Council, while one polling location frustrated voters. The polls closed at 7 p.m.

We will publish results here as soon as they are available.

On the ballot are seven candidates vying for the nonpartisan, at-large seats with four-year terms. They are incumbents Oliver Brown and Michael Raymond; Gary Bensch, husband of Beaufort County Councilwoman Cynthia Bensch; former Councilman Fred Hamilton; Garfield Moss, who ran unsuccessfully for council in 2008; Larry Toomer, who ran unsuccessfully for council in 2005; and former Councilman Charlie Wetmore.

At Bluffton Library, 46 people voted by 9:30 a.m., according to poll clerk David Stortz, who said the turnout was slightly below-average.

Stortz also said clerks had to turn away a handful of people who have Bluffton mailing addresses but don't live in the town proper, making them ineligible to vote in town elections.

"It's confusing," he said. "You have a Bluffton address, so you think you live here, but you don't. They can vote in federal, state and county, but not town elections."

Only 24 of more than 3,400 eligible voters cast ballots at Bluffton Elementary by 10 a.m., according to election managers. At H.E. McCracken Middle School, 38 voters had weighed in among the more than 1,700 registered.

Voters at the middle school complained the polling location was hard to find.

"Once you get in, it's a piece of cake, but they certainly make you run around," said Brian Lackey.

Ernie Hannin, the location's election manager, said election officials this year moved the polling location from the school's music room at the front of the building to the wrestling gym near the back.

Voters who were used to the ballot boxes being in the music room -- where they had been for the past three elections -- could be seen wandering outside the school looking for red signs directing them to the polling place , Hannin said

"I'm so disturbed by this," said Wendy Bunner, who flagged down lost voters and pointed toward the polling location.

Hannin said the polling change was because election officials and the town's fire marshal did not want voters parking close to a fleet of buses outside the entrance to the old polling location.

"I'm not sure why we have it in the school system at all," Hannin said. "It's an inconvenience to voters. With all the security issues these days, they're sticking us back into a place where we won't intermingle with the school. But it's not easy to find."

Polls closed at 7 p.m. and results should be in by 9 p.m., according to election officials.

With seven candidates on the ballot, it will be difficult to win a majority of votes.

Instead, voters can expect a runoff.

If no candidate wins a majority -- determined using a formula that takes into account the total number of votes cast, number of seats open and number of candidates in the race -- then the top three vote-getters will compete in a runoff Nov. 19, with the top two vote-getters winning seats. If one candidate wins a majority Tuesday, there will be a Nov. 19 runoff between the top two remaining candidates.

If two candidates win a majority, then the election is decided, Whitmire said.

In the event of a runoff, all registered voters can cast a ballot on Nov. 19, regardless of whether they vote Tuesday, according to state election commission spokesman Chris Whitmire.

Follow reporter Dan Burley on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.

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