Bright-Hawkins Race Could Be Decided By Spartanburg GOP Delegation
June 15, 2004
One week after a surprisingly close race between incumbent state Sen. John Hawkins (R-Spartanburg) and On Time Trucking business owner Lee Bright ended with a 31-vote edge to Hawkins, Bright has officially contested the race with the state executive committee with the South Carolina Republican Party.
Citing several problems with precincts and voter irregularities, Bright said on Monday that he believes these obvious discrepancies in the primary race warrant a new election for the Senate District 12 seat.
Bright filed the official paperwork with South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Katon Dawson on Monday in protest of the election results.
Specifically, Bright claims several voters who did not even live in the Senate District 12 voting district were allowed to vote in this race illegally.
Also, Bright alleges that he can prove that some people were allowed to vote with absentee ballots as well as at their polling place on election day.
Volunteers with the Bright campaign were seen at the election commission office in Spartanburg reviewing the primary results on Friday, according to WSPA-TV.
Bright told WSPA-TV that "it's important for people to have faith in the voting process and we are just simply going through due process."
Apparently, though, he must have found something that made him believe something went awry on primary election night.
Not surprisingly, Hawkins compared Bright's questioning of the election results to 2000 Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore, who contested the results in Florida that showed Republican George W. Bush had narrowly defeated him.
"I think that what's going on [with Bright volunteers reviewing the election results] from what I understand is unfortunate," Hawkins remarked to WSPA-TV. "What happened in Florida several years ago was unfortunate. It was an embarrassment for our country and nobody wants that here in Spartanburg."
Nevertheless, that's exactly what Hawkins got on Monday...a contested election.
The official vote tally showed Hawkins with 4,762 votes, or 50.15%, and Bright with 4,731 votes, or 49.85%.
So what now?
If the state Republican Party chooses to ignore the problems brought to their attention by Bright, then they risk disenfranchising a large group of voters who supported Bright and honestly believe some underhanded tactics cost their candidate the election.
On the other hand, if the state party allows a new election to take place, then some will question the veracity of the process and may be discouraged from voting in this race again.
Worse yet, the problems that existed in the original primary vote could be exacerbated in the special election as the focus turns to one race and each candidate rallies their supporters to get out to the polls.
But I think there is a better solution to this problem that should be considered by the state GOP executive committee when they meet.
Under the South Carolina Republican Party Rules, an alternative to the primary election is laid out for the nomination of candidates for elective public office.
Although the primary method is the most preferred way for a candidate to be selected, it is not the only way.
Rule 11(a)(2) and (3) states that county convention delegates can vote for their choice of candidate if three-fourths of them agree to do so. If that happens, then the county convention delegates would be allowed to vote for the candidate of their choice in a simple majority vote.
What does this mean for the Bright-Hawkins race?
Well, if the state party agrees that a new election can take place, then Spartanburg County Republican Party Chairman Rick Beltram could choose to call an emergency county convention to settle the Bright-Hawkins debate from within the party.
If three out of four Spartanburg GOP convention delegates agree to allow the Senate District 12 seat to be decided by the delegation rather than a primary, then an immediate vote would take place to decide the winner.
This would save taxpayers across the state from having to pay for a special election. Furthermore, it would not confuse Republican primary voters who may not understand why they would be voting again for Bright or Hawkins.
I will admit this is unorthodox, but it is completely within the rules of the state Republican Party.
First things first, though.
Let's see how Katon Dawson and the state executive committee react to Bright's challenge.
If they rule against him, then this conversation is a moot point.
But if they rule in his favor...
It would be interesting to see how both Bright and Hawkins would respond to a convention election vs. a special election.
Ain't politics fun?!