Bluffton Town Council began preparing for the November elections Tuesday night by taking a step toward re-establishing its Municipal Election Commission, which would certify results and hear any protests.
The measure, which passed on first reading, seeks to address problems that plagued the town's 2008 elections, when all four candidates for two council seats contested and appealed the results.
Re-forming the Municipal Election Commission, dissolved when those powers were transferred to the county elections board in 2006, would determine where protests should be heard first, county elections board executive director Scott Marshall said in an interview Tuesday.
In 2008, losing candidates Jeff Fulgham and Normand E. "Gus" Thomas said address coding errors may have prevented some residents from voting while allowing non-residents to cast ballots. The county elections board called for a new election after hearing the protest, but the state election commission later overturned that decision.
The question of which body had the authority to call for new elections was eventually settled more than a year later, when the S.C. Supreme Court ruled that Beaufort County Circuit Court had that power.
By that time, first- and second-place finishers Fred Hamilton and Allyne Mitchell had long been sworn in.
The county would still provide the machines and pollworkers on Election Day, according to town attorney Terry Finger.
If the measure passes on second and final reading at April's council meeting, council must appoint three Bluffton residents to the commission.
One would serve a two-year term, another a four-year term and the third a six-year term.
All commissioners would have to be certified through courses that would cost the town about $2,500 each, Marshall told council last month.
Councilman Mike Raymond was the only council member to oppose re-establishing the commission. The measure passed 3-to-1, with Mitchell absent.
Raymond said that while creating the commission would add another level of oversight to the elections process, it would not make voting error-free. He said it would not prevent the ballot errors that occurred in 2008, for example.
"(Re-creating the commission) does not come without expense but might not have any benefits," he said.
Marshall, who noted Port Royal and the city of Beaufort have similar commissions, said the county elections board will stand by Bluffton's decision either way.
"I do not have a position on it -- they're a muncipality and govern themselves, and this is an option they have," Marshall said Tuesday.