The Beaufort County Board of Elections chairman who drew criticism from the county's Democratic Party chairman for a partisan email he sent in October said Wednesday he should not have forwarded the email.
Ron Clifford said Wednesday he did not write the email that drew the ire of Beaufort County Democratic Party chairman Blaine Lotz, but said he should not have forwarded it on. Clifford said he was unsure who wrote the email, but believed it came from a friend who wanted to help stir Republican voters in Beaufort County and in other states.
Clifford said the email wasn't sent strictly to Republican Party members, but to a group of residents who had shown interest in the voting process. After re-reading the email Wednesday, he said he should not have forwarded the message.
"First let me apologize to the general public, but also to the members of the board that work so hard to put on the elections each year, for sending out this forwarded email," Clifford said in an emailed statement. "We on the Board of Elections are always looking for ways to get out the total vote, not Republican or Democratic. In re-reading this email that I received, it should have never been sent out by any member of the board, particularly the chairman."
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The email Clifford forwarded Oct. 6 urged local Republicans to become committeemen or presidents at local precincts, citing data that showed only 41 percent of registered Republicans on Hilton Head Island voted in the 2012 presidential election. The email offered suggestions like contacting known Republican voters in island neighborhoods, helping them cast absentee ballots or getting them to the polls.
The end of the email also urged Republican Party members "to go beyond our S.C. borders to help others," including using the Hilton Head Island Republican Club to make phone calls to help Republican candidates in other states.
Clifford was provided a copy of the email to review Tuesday by The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette, but previous engagements precluded him from looking it over until Wednesday morning, he said.
The email did not constitute an ethics violation, S.C. State Election Commission public information officer Chris Whitmire said, but the commission asks election board members to refrain from involvement in political party activity.
Clifford said he's worked to stay away from party affiliations in the 11 years he's served on the Board of Elections and had never had an issue like the email before.
Although the email Clifford forwarded was not an ethical or legal violation, Lotz said the email "was clearly crossing the line" and called for a public apology from Clifford and a promise to refrain from political party activity in the future.
"I don't accept that from them that this is not a problem," he said. "He's telling people how to get more Republicans in office. It's worse than managing a political campaign. It's how to build up the Republican Party, and it's unacceptable."
Lotz said Wednesday he received an apology from Clifford and an explanation that he had not read the email carefully to realize its political nature. Lotz said he told Clifford he "accepted his apology and appreciated his usual good work on the Board of Elections and Voter Registration."
Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.
- Partisan email sent by elections official not an ethics violation, but Democratic Party chair seeks apology, Dec. 2, 2015