Local candidates make final push before Tuesday primary

zmurdock@beaufortgazette.comJune 9, 2014 

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FILE: Voting clerk Rufus Siler and poll worker Ethel Johnson take information from Beaufort's Betty and Stan Waskiewicz, left, during voting in March 2013 at the Charles Lind Brown Activity Center in Beaufort.

SARAH WELLIVER — Sarah Welliver Buy Photo

Eight candidates facing opponents in Tuesday's party primaries were knocking on doors and shaking hands Monday, making their final bids to raise voter awareness.

If requests for absentee ballots are any indication, they'll have to work to raise voter interest, too.

Fewer than 1,500 voters have cast absentee ballots, well below past turnouts, even for other mid-cycle elections, according to Maria Smalls, director of the Beaufort County Board of Elections and Registration.

"For an off-election year like we have and because the governor is not a contested race (in the primary), it's been very low," Smalls said.

However, Smalls still hopes voters will take their right to vote seriously Tuesday.

"Election Day is always fun because you see people coming out and exercising their right," she said. "A lot of those people don't know what it takes behind the scenes to make this happen, so when we see people coming out to the polls and casting their votes, it's all worthwhile."

Tuesday's primaries include three Beaufort County Council races with the winners likely claiming the seats, because they have no opposition in November's general election so far. That's also the case in the contest for the Beaufort County Auditor's Office, in which county school board member Jim Beckert faces county programmer George Wright for the Republican nomination. They have no Democratic opposition in November.

Beckert was knocking on doors to spread his ideas about improving the office's efficiency with technology.

"How many doors? Enough to turn your knuckles raw, golly," Beckert said.

Wright also has spread the word on office efficiency, emphasizing his technical experience with the county's tax software as his strongest qualification for the position.

"I've been out making sure all my signs are standing tall on the side of the road, and I've been contacting people by phone and email to make sure they get out there and vote tomorrow," Wright said.

Beckert and Wright are vying to replace Sharon Burris, who is retiring after 27 years in the office.

Among those seeking County Council seats is former Board of Education member Jim Bequette. He is challenging current council Chairman Paul Sommerville for the GOP nomination to represent a district that includes a portion of Beaufort, Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, and Lady's and Fripp islands.

Bequette has met with representatives of several communities on Lady's and St. Helena islands to pitch his ideas to improve county financial transparency. Sommerville said he also has been meeting voters and encouraging them to cast a ballot, "no matter who they're going to vote for."

Republican Councilman Jerry Stewart has held several events in Sun City Hilton Head to discuss issues with residents and will visit voters outside polls Tuesday. His opponent for a seat representing the Okatie area, history professor Stephen Bacon, declined to comment on his own campaign.

Another Republican incumbent, Stu Rodman, said he has shied from campaigning this year, explaining that his eight-year track record representing part of Hilton Head Island speaks for itself. His opponent, island attorney Lauren Martel, has reached out to voters over the phone and through her website and social media, she said Monday.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. throughout Beaufort County.

Tuesday is expected to be mostly sunny, with a high temperature of about 88 degrees and no rain, according to the National Weather Service.

When voters enter the polls, they will need to choose which party's primary they'll vote in -- Democrat or Republican -- and present photo identification, under a new state law.

In the event of a runoff, voters will only be allowed to cast their ballots for the party they choose Tuesday. Voters who do not vote Tuesday can vote in a runoff of either party.

Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.

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