Larry Toomer won one of two open Bluffton Town Council seats Tuesday, while incumbent Mike Raymond and challenger Fred Hamilton collected enough votes to advance to a Nov. 19 runoff, according to unofficial results from the Beaufort County Board of Voter Registration and Elections.
Turnout was about 9 percent of the town's 9,546 registered voters, according to the board's website. Interim executive director Marie Smalls said 1,808 votes were cast.
According to the unofficial results, Toomer had 542 votes, more than 29 percent of the ballots cast.
Hamilton had 297 votes while Raymond had 288, just enough to outdo challenger Charlie Wetmore, who had 280 votes, and incumbent Oliver Brown, who received 263.
Challengers Gary Bensch and Garfield Moss both received less than 5 percent of the vote, 87 and 46 votes, respectively.
Four of the candidates -- Bensch, Brown, Raymond and Toomer -- attended an informal gathering at Town Hall to watch the returns as town clerk Sandra Lunceford hit the refresh button on the county elections board website after the polls closed at 7 p.m.
Surrounded by friends and family, Toomer beamed when he saw the results.
"Obviously, the people expect me to do a good job, and I think I'm ready," Toomer, the owner of Bluffton Oyster Co. said. He ran unsuccessfully for council in 2007.
He wouldn't get into specific policy plans, but said "peace needs to be made in Bluffton among residents. There is definitely some animosity issues that we'll work on to get everyone back together."
Hamilton, who served previously six years on council, was happy to head into the runoff.
"Looks like I live to see another day," he said in a phone interview.
Raymond, who has been on council since 2009, said he is relieved to move forward to the runoff.
"I got a little more work to do, but it's been a good contest so far," he said.
Outside Town Hall, Brown said he has enjoyed his four years on council.
"I've learned a lot," he said. "I came in knowing almost nothing, but I realized the most important thing is for the town to stay afloat, to remain in its budget. Everyone wants to see something done now. On council, you have to do things incrementally."
Bensch said he hoped the runoff would bring more clarity for voters.
"Hopefully it becomes a cleaner pick, so the voters can really decide who they want," he said. "It's a difficult thing to run, and I'm proud of everyone for speaking their mind and telling the truth."
Attempts to reach Moss and Wetmore late Tuesday evening were unsuccessful.
The results won't become official until Thursday when the county's Municipal Election Commission meets at 10 a.m. at 15 John Galt Road in Beaufort to certify the results, Lunceford said.
Smalls said the election was glitch-free and she did not anticipate a change in results.
The council seats are four-year terms, nonpartisan and at-large.
New members will be sworn in at the January council meeting, Lunceford said.
Bluffton Town Council results
Follow reporter Dan Burley on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.