Hamilton, Raymond ready for runoff, hope to galvanize voters

dburley@islandpacket.comNovember 14, 2013 

Fred Hamilton Jr., left, and Mike Raymond

STAFF ILLUSTRATION

  • Candidates at a glance

    Editor's note: Candidate responses on this questionnaire have been edited for space. To view the full version, along with audio recordings of Raymond's interview with The Island Packet editorial board (Hamilton did not participate in an editorial board interview), click here.

    Fred Hamilton Jr.

    • Age: 54
    • What are the three most important issues you would address if elected?
      1. Quality of family life in Bluffton.
      2. Maintain and protect our natural resources.
      3. Employment opportunities for our locals.

    Mike Raymond

    • Age: 62
    • What are the three most important issues you would address if elected?
      1. Professional management of rapid growth.
      2. Expanding the tax base to provide services to the families of more than 1,000 new residential homes added each year.
      3. We can't allow newcomers to dilute our sense of identity.

Just days before Tuesday's runoff for a seat on Bluffton Town Council, candidates are hoping voters buck the trend of poor turnout during off-cycle elections.

While challenger Larry Toomer secured a seat with 29 percent of the vote two weeks ago, incumbent Mike Raymond and challenger Fred Hamilton outdid four other candidates -- Oliver Brown, Gary Bensch, Garfield Moss and Charlie Wetmore -- to advance to Tuesday's runoff for the second slot.

The two say they are trusting citizens to do better than the 9 percent turnout on Nov. 5.

"It's about informing everyone that we're halfway there," said Raymond, who has been on council since 2009. "It's not over yet."

"They need to get out and vote," said Hamilton, who served six years on council, until 2011. "It's a very important election for those who believe in the Bluffton state of mind."

The town held its first odd-year election in 2009, and only 552 of the town's 5,650 registered voters -- about 9.77 percent -- cast ballots on Election Day.

In 2011, 11.9 percent of the town's 7,252 registered voters went to the polls, according to town clerk Sandra Lunceford.

By comparison, in the 2008 general election, 3,264 people -- or 66 percent of the town's 4,914 eligible voters -- cast ballots in the mayoral race.

The town pays about $4,000 each election; double that this year with the runoff, Debbie Szpanka, town spokeswoman, said.

Chris Whitmire, spokesman for the S.C. State Election Commission, said more municipalities have recently moved to off-cycle elections, including Columbia, which held its mayoral and some council elections this month on an odd year for the first time.

In South Carolina, 122 of 272 municipal elections are in off-years, according to data provided by Whitmire.

But the lack of voters and cost of elections have led some, including Raymond, to question the Bluffton council's decision in 2006 to move its nonpartisan, at-large elections to off-cycle years.

"With these turnouts, it might be worth taking a look at," Raymond said. "We're not getting a full representation of the population here."

Hamilton, on the other hand, thinks off-cycle elections allow local voters to focus solely on local issues.

"Too many things on the ballot get confusing for the voter," he said. "You end up not voting for the smaller things on the ballot and just voting for the national candidates."

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday at the town's five precincts.

The town will hold an unofficial gathering to watch results beginning at 7 p.m. at Town Hall, 20 Bridge St.

Candidates at a glance

Editor's note: Candidate responses on this questionnaire have been edited for space. To view the full version, along with audio recordings of Raymond's interview with The Island Packet editorial board (Hamilton did not participate in an editorial board interview), click here.

Fred Hamilton Jr.

  • Age: 54
  • What are the three most important issues you would address if elected?

    1. Quality of family life in Bluffton.

    2. Maintain and protect our natural resources.

    3. Employment opportunities for our locals.

Mike Raymond

  • Age: 62
  • What are the three most important issues you would address if elected?

    1. Professional management of rapid growth.

    2. Expanding the tax base to provide services to the families of more than 1,000 new residential homes added each year.

    3. We can't allow newcomers to dilute our sense of identity.

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

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