New elections director puts military regimen to work

After a year spent working at Al Taji Air Base in Iraq, retired U.S. Air Force officer and newly hired Beaufort County elections chief Scott Marshall developed a special affinity for the free and fair elections sometimes taken for granted by Americans.

"I love the democratic process. I've seen the result firsthand of a country that doesn't have that process," said Marshall, who from August 2007 to August 2008 was a military advisor to the Iraqi Air Force. "It gives me a greater appreciation for what we have here."

Marshall hopes that his love of democracy -- and military-instilled penchant for order and diplomacy -- will serve him well as director of county Board of Elections and Voter Registration. He started the job June22. Former director Agnes Garvin, a 19-year department veteran, retired July 3.

"Organized, organized, organized," elections board chairman Marilyn Caprielian said Monday to describe Marshall when he was introduced at the Beaufort County Council meeting. "That's the adjective. We've already seen the beginnings of the fruits of his labor. ... We have every confidence that this will continue and that Beaufort County will be the recipient of his labor."

The native of Danville, Va., arrived in the Lowcountry just in time to conduct the Hilton Head Island Ward 2 elections. It was the perfect test run, Marshall said.

"I was able to see the entire process on a smaller scale," he said. "Just two weeks later, we had a runoff. I was able to see two elections back-to-back."

The experience made it clear how many opportunities for error exist during a single election, Marshall said.

The department was criticized for its handling of the Nov. 4 Bluffton Town Council election, when address coding mistakes on precinct books prevented some residents from casting ballots and allowed some non-residents to vote.

"Providing accountability is important, but more important is making sure we don't make those same mistakes," said Marshall, who has spent time studying the contested Bluffton election in anticipation of the court decision. "We have an opportunity to prove ourselves again in November in Bluffton."

In the meantime, Marshall has been reviewingstaff responsibilities and department processes, studying state and local code and taking classes to be certified by the S.C. Elections Commission. He's on track to complete the courses by October, he said.

He also has been busy reviewing poll books and street listings to ensure county residents are in the right precincts.

"My immediate focus is at a macro level," Marshall said. "It's a cyclical business, and there's a certain rhythm to it. (Garvin) cast a very large shadow with her experience and longevity. I have a lot of respect for her, but there are some things I will do differently."

When he's not working, Marshall hopes to get back to the links or a softball diamond. Beaufort County is an ideal place to indulge his passion for sports and scuba diving, for which both he and his wife, Ginger, are certified, he said.

"She knows the area, so that helps," Marshall said of his wife, who relocated from Virginia to Beaufort County during his year in Iraq."I love the area. I love that it's wide open, not as busy as major metropolitan areas. We're looking forward to becoming a part of this community."