After months of advertising debates and polls, Election Day is here. Although most of the attention has been on the presidential race, more than a dozen contests for local elections will be decided today.
Ten of the 11 seats on the Beaufort County Board of Education are up for grabs, and there is one contested seat on County Council. Voters also will be asked to weigh in on referenda that could reshape county government and its priorities. The city of Beaufort and the Town of Hilton Head Island will fill seats on their councils.
About 700 poll workers have been trained and more than 350 voting machines tested, according to Scott Marshall, county elections executive director. The county has about 109,000 registered voters, he said, up from about 90,000 in 2008.
Already, the county has received about 17,600 absentee ballots and is on pace to surpass the 19,070 received in 2008, the last presidential election year.
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Weather could affect today's turnout. Temperatures across Beaufort County aren't expected to rise above 60, and rain is likely.
"Historically, there is a correlation between poor weather and diminished turnout," Marshall said. "Voters are less likely to turn out in inclement weather."
County elections officials believe about 65 to 70 percent of voters will cast ballots. That would represent a decline from 2008, when turnout was about 75 percent.
The lone contested race for Beaufort County Council is in redrawn District 7, which covers parts of the Bluffton-Okatie area. Republican nominee Cynthia Bensch is running against petition candidate Dan Duryea.
Duryea intended to run in the Republican primary but was one of dozens of candidates statewide kept off the ballot because he failed to file his candidacy paperwork properly.
He spent Monday meeting voters and handing out campaign material. He reminded supporters not to vote straight-ticket Republican; otherwise, they'll fail to vote for him. His supporters fanned out across their communities Monday night to make the same case.
Bensch's campaign has placed signs throughout the district and emailed supporters, urging them to vote straight-ticket Republican.
Seven of the 10 races for school board are contested, and the District 3 race between board chairman Fred Washington Jr., board member Michael Rivers and former educator Bernie Schein could be the closest. The district was redrawn after the 2010 Census and stretches from downtown Beaufort to St. Helena Island.
County voters will consider a proposal to issue $25 million in bonds to support the Rural and Critical Lands preservation program. Voters approved similar measures in 2000 and 2006, raising $90 million to buy and protect 20,500 acres.
Another ballot question asks residents to consider switching from the current council-administrator form of county government to a council-manager system. If approved, the county administrator would appoint the auditor and treasurer -- positions that currently are elected.
A state question asks if the governor and lieutenant governor should run on the same ticket.
BEAUFORT CITY COUNCIL
Beaufort City Council candidates Mike McFee, George O'Kelley Jr. and Pete Palmer all said they are looking forward to tonight's returns after months of campaigning. The three are competing for two seats in the at-large, nonpartisan election.
McFee said he intends to continue campaigning by walking the streets today to talk with people and show his signs, and O'Kelley said he is encouraging people to vote.
Palmer said Monday the results are "in the Lord's hands," and if he wins, it will be the result of a "protest vote" by those who want a change on council.
HILTON HEAD TOWN COUNCIL
Voters will choose at least two new Town Council members today, and possibly a third, if incumbent Bill Ferguson -- the council's longest serving member -- is ousted by either Marc Grant or Charles Houston in Ward 1.
In Ward 3, voters will choose between incumbent Lee Edwards, who is challenged by Andrew Jablonecki II, Jeff Myers and Ryan McAvoy. In Ward 6, voters will choose between John McCann and Jim Collett Jr., who are running to replace Mayor Pro Tem Ken Heitzke.
All -- with the exception of Myers, who was on business in Israel and instead used a surrogate -- made a last-minute pitch to about 85 voters Monday before the Hilton Head Island First Monday Republican Lunch Group.
They each recited a four-minute stump speech composed of common refrains heard throughout their campaigns.
For Ferguson and Grant, their campaigning is over, while Edwards said he plans to make more calls and send a final email to supporters. McAvoy walked door-to-door in Shipyard Plantation.
"I think we've done what we can at this point," Grant said. "Now, it's time for people to vote."
Staff writers Erin Moody and Tom Barton contributed to this report.
- Island Packet/Beaufort Gazette elections page
- Candidates spar at Beaufort Chamber forum, Nov. 1, 2012
- District 7 County Council candidates square off at Bluffton forum, Oct. 30, 2012
- Ward 1 council candidates make their cases to voters, Oct. 24, 2012
- Hilton Head voters face choices in Wards 1, 3 and 6, Oct. 20, 2012
- 3 to run in election for two Beaufort City Council seats; mayor unopposed, Aug. 15, 2012