Voter turnuot slow but steady in town council race

Turnout was slow and steady this afternoon on Hilton Head Island for the special election to fill the vacant Ward 3 seat on Town Council.

As of 1:30 p.m., about 10 to 15 percent of registered voters had cast ballots for the seat vacated when Drew Laughlin was elected mayor.

"It's been about what I expected," said Beaufort County elections director Scott Marshall. "I think we'll fall between 15 to 20 percent on the high side."

Marshall did not have a number of how many total ballots had been cast, but based on anecdotal evidence collected after visiting four of the five polling locations, he said turnout remains fairly low among the roughly 5,300 registered voters in Ward 3. The area includes Spanish Wells, Wexford, Long Cove Club, Indigo Run, Point Comfort, Tide Pointe and Shipyard Plantation.

About 20 percent of registered voters turned out in a 2009 special election to replace Bill Mottel, who resigned his Ward 2 seat for health reasons.

The general election Nov. 2 featured high voter turnout, motivated in part by a seven-way race for mayor, contentious congressional and gubernatorial races, referendums and get-out-the-vote efforts by political parties. About half of the island's registered voters participated in the general election, which also featured three contested Town Council seats.

Turnout in the Nov. 16 mayoral runoff was lower than in the general election, but surprisingly strong, at 32 percent of registered voters, Marshall said.

Not voting machine malfunctions or other issues preventing people from voting have been reported, he said.

"It's been so smooth that it's scary," Marshall said.

Candidates include Beaufort County Councilman Steve Baer, 68; Lee Edwards, 43, president and CEO of a Hilton Head-based landscaping company; marketing representative Ryan McAvoy, 31; marketing consultant David Warren, 55; and retired money manager Peter Zych, 71.

The council term expires in December 2012.

If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of votes, the top two vote-getters head to a runoff March 1.

Should Baer win the race to replace Laughlin, a special election would be held to fill Baer's vacancy on County Council.