COLUMBIA — South Carolina’s high court on Friday put a stop to a recount of votes in Richland County, granting a request from state Republicans who argued that a GOP candidate fairly won a disputed legislative race.
The Republican Party had asked the Supreme Court to step in a day after a circuit court judge granted a request from state Democrats to recount votes in House District 75, a contested race in the county that includes South Carolina’s capital city. Democrats said in court papers filed Thursday that election officials didn’t have enough voting machines or adequately fix ones that broke down on Election Day.
The recount was expanded county-wide several hours later. State election officials had begun recounting all of the county’s votes on Friday afternoon, but that process was halted after an hour when the high court ruled.
Richland County’s preliminary tally shows Republican Kirkman Finlay as the race’s unofficial winner by a narrow margin – less than 300 votes. Democrat Joe McCulloch is challenging those results, and the circuit judge who ordered the recount had set a hearing for Nov. 13.
It wasn’t immediately clear when Richland County elections results would be certified, a process other counties throughout the state conducted Friday.
Election officials “have demonstrated the threat of immediate and irreparable injury in the form of the certification of election results that have been marred by unlawful election procedures and vote tabulation procedures,” Judge Casey Manning wrote in his Thursday order. “The public is entitled to an independent and thorough review of these procedures and tabulations.”
Based on results provided by election officials, The Associated Press called the race on Election Day for McCulloch. The AP withdrew that call after election officials changed vote tallies to show Finlay in the lead and has not declared a winner.
A cascade of Election Day problems delayed the county’s unofficial results until late Wednesday. Officials cited long voting lines, too few machines and broken counting scanners. Some voters reportedly waited up to six hours.
State Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire has said Richland County was the only one of the state’s 46 counties in the state that reported serious problems. County officials have not explained how the problems occurred.
In court papers filed Friday, a Republican Party attorney said Manning didn’t have the authority to issue rulings related to legislative elections and said the Democrats’ decision to take the matter to court was “eroding public confidence in South Carolina’s elections.”
State GOP executive director Matt Moore said in a statement Friday that Finlay had fairly won the disputed House race and decried “politically-connected Democratic Party lawyers” for getting “special treatment” in being granted the recount.
In the request for the temporary restraining order, Democratic Party executive director Amanda Loveday is represented by Dick Harpootlian – a Columbia attorney who also chairs the state Democrats. Loveday said Friday that Republicans’ actions showed they were more concerned with political results than fixing voting problems.