Write-in campaign still undecided for empty Hilton Head school board seat

The winner of the Hilton Head Island District 2 seat on the Beaufort County Board of Education â€" a rare race in which no candidate appeared on the ballot â€" won't be known until later this week, according to the county's elections chief.

Scott Marshall, executive director of the Beaufort County Board of Voter Registration and Elections, said late Tuesday that write-in ballots will need to be counted by hand.

Julie Bell, the only person to file a petition to run for the seat being vacated by Bob Arundell, didn't collect enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot and now hopes to win as a write-in candidate. Rita Hart also mounted a write-in campaign.

Marshall said he was not sure when the votes would be tallied, but he expected the results by 11 a.m. Friday.

"District 2 is our highest priority in getting these write-ins nailed down," he said, adding 425 votes were cast.

Beaufort County elections officials couldn't remember the last time voters faced an election in which no candidate's name appeared on the ballot for an open seat. Although write-in elections are unusual locally, they do occur in other places in the state, typically in elections for boards that are difficult to fill, according to state elections officials.

At least one voter trying to write in Julie Bell's name for a school board seat was unable to do so because the "L" button on a touch-screen malfunctioned, Marshall said. A poll manager instructed the voter to enter Bell's initials instead, and Marshall said he will explain the situation to canvassers when they meet Friday.

Bell, 48, has lived in Beaufort County for 38 years and is the county's membership director for Girl Scouts of Eastern South Carolina. She and her four children attended Beaufort County schools. She has a son and a daughter at Hilton Head Island High School, and her two older children graduated from the school.

"I was a little disappointed in some of the glitches I heard about, but (Marshall) reassured me he would take care of it," Bell said late Tuesday. "I have no idea what the outcome will be, but I'm excited and eager to see the results and hopefully get to work."

Bell has said she wants to see more parental involvement in schools and she wants to raise the high school graduation rate.

Hart, 50, moved to Hilton Head six years ago and has two children, one at Hilton Head High and another who graduated from the school. Before taking a break from her career to raise her children, Hart was director of human resources for United Southern Bank.

She has said she is concerned about overcrowding in schools because classrooms that are too full make it difficult for children to learn. She also wants to improve the high school graduation rate.Hart said she was "optimistic" about the outcome.

"I got the impression it was going to be a late night," she said, "but I'm looking forward to the results."

In school board races in northern Beaufort County, former Hilton Head Island High School principal Bill Evans defeated Robert White to win an election between two veteran educators vying to represent Lady's Island District 7.

Evans received 56 percent of the vote in unofficial results with all 10 precincts reporting in the district that includes Lady's Island, Dataw Island and Pigeon Point. White had 44 percent.

"I knew the person winning would welcome support and ideas from the person who didn't win," he said.

Evans, 63, spent about 40 years in public education, 24 of them in Beaufort County. He was principal of Hilton Head High from 1986 to 1998 and served as an interim principal at both Beaufort and Battery Creek high schools.

Also, incumbent Michael Rivers defeated newcomer Faye Alston to win the seat representing St. Helena Island District 5.

Rivers received 61 percent of the vote with all six precincts reporting. Alston had about 38 percent.