The Republican nomination for a Beaufort County Council seat is likely heading for a runoff after no candidate was able to grab enough votes to lock down the nod in Tuesday's primary.
According to unofficial results posted on the S.C. Election Commission's website around 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, Mark Lawson garnered nearly 46 percent of the vote to lead the four-candidate field vying for the council's District 9 seat, which represents Bluffton, Pritchardville and Daufuskie Island.
Mike Raymond (19 percent) was second, followed closely by Laura Sterling (18 percent) and Randy Boehme (17 percent).
Lawson said he saw a lot of friendly faces at the polls as he stood out in the rain earlier in the day.
"There's a low voter turnout, but I'm very excited about the people who came out and supported me today," Lawson said just before the unofficial results were posted. "I think we're very close to 50 percent, but we'll have to see what happens when the results come in tonight."
Raymond had said earlier in the evening that he felt like a runoff was likely.
"We left nothing on the table, Raymond said. "(I'm) very fortunate to have such good friends. ... We worked hard and had a lot of fun. Whatever happens, I can say we're proud of our effort. And I can say I think we'll probably be in a runoff."
Sherri Zedd, chair of the Beaufort County South Carolina Republican Party, said that in races with light turnout and multiple candidates, a runoff is always a possibility.
"The sheriff's race was driving a lot of the turnout," Zedd said, adding that she was unsure if everyone who voted in that race cast a ballot for the county council spot.
Earlier in the day, Marie Smalls, director of the county's Board of Voter Registration and Elections, estimated turnout between 12 and 13 percent countywide.
The commission's data put that figure around 22 percent later Tuesday night.
Just 1,466 votes were cast in the eight precincts that fall in District 9's area, according to the election commission's website. And only 20 votes separated the apparent second- and third-place candidates.
Sterling, who finished third, according to the unofficial tally, said she would not challenge the results.
"Regardless of the outcome, I hope people will feel encouraged to run for public office," Sterling said late Tuesday night. "We need new blood in politics, not just more of the same."
Since it appears no candidate received a majority of the votes, a runoff will take place on June 26. The top two candidates will be featured in that event.
Raymond, 66, moved to the Lowcountry in 2002.
A former business operations consultant, he has chaired the Bluffton Township Fire District board and served a four-year term on Bluffton Town Council. He was also a code enforcement officer for the town’s Department of Environmental Protection.
His campaign has focused on amending zoning and development ordinances to better control growth. He has said the county's Community Development Code (CDC), the document that governs planning and growth in the area, needs an overhaul to keep the county out of lawsuits — such as the ongoing court battle between the county and Hilton Head National.
Lawson, 52, has lived in the area since 1990.
He is sales and marketing director at BELFOR Property Restoration, where he’s worked since 2013. He’s also been a real estate broker and small business owner, and is heavily involved in youth sports.
Lawson's campaign has centered on quality of life issues and "defending" the area from "bad growth." He cited the high-density residential and commercial development previously proposed by Hilton Head National as an example of bad growth. He said the firm line county council has taken with landowners of Malind Pointe and Malind Bluff in Okatie is "smart growth," an attempt to limit density.
One of them will battle Democrat Mark McGinnis in November's general election.
McGinnis, an engineer at Gulfstream, lived in the Savannah area for almost two decades before relocating to Bluffton about five years ago.
An Air Force and Air National Guard veteran, McGinnis spent 22 years in the military and calls himself a "centrist" Democrat.
He is concerned about rapid residential development without the necessary infrastructure to support it. He also cited a lack of low-income housing for workers in the county and worries people are being driven out of the county by increasing housing costs.
In a statement to The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette late Tuesday night, Boehme pledged his support for Lawson in the upcoming runoff.
Sterling said she favors Raymond.
The District 9 seat is currently held by Tabor Vaux, who announced in February he would not seek re-election.