Bell wins write-in campaign for Hilton Head school board seat

Julie Bell was declared the winner Friday of the Hilton Head Island District 2 seat on the Beaufort County Board of Education, a rare race in which no candidate appeared on the ballot.

According to results released Friday during the canvass of Beaufort County's election results, Bell received 310 write-in votes. Rita Hart was second with 28 votes.

A total of 472 votes were cast. Scott Marshall, executive director of the county Board of Voter Registration and Elections, said the remaining 134 votes were invalid. Many of those ballots contained "nonsense" responses, he said.

Ballots with valid write-ins are counted only if a candidate receives at least 25 votes, he said. Hart and Bell were the only names that met that criteria.

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 instead ran as a write-in candidate. Hart also campaigned as a write-in candidate.

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.

She attended Friday's meeting and said after results were released she is "humbled to serve." She hopes to get more parents engaged in educational issues and in raising graduation rates.

Bell had been concerned about the election results after several people told her they weren't able to type in her name when casting ballots Tuesday.

"It's been a long week," she said.

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.

Hart congratulated Bell on her win. She said she has been interested in running for a school board seat for a while and likely would try again.

Beaufort County elections officials couldn't remember the last time voters faced a race 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.

Staff writer Kate Cerve contributed to this report.