Incumbent Phillips seals Columbus council seat

Published 11:16 am Friday, November 17, 2017


COLUMBUS – Incumbent Columbus Town Councilman Mark Phillips sealed his win Friday, Nov. 17 when the Polk County Board of Elections counted provisional votes. The board counted three provisional votes with none of those votes being cast for either Phillips or challenger Brent Jackson. At the close of the Nov. 7 election, Phillips had 79 votes and Jackson had 76 votes, with three outstanding provisional votes.

Provisional votes are made to give the board of elections time to research whether the people voting are actually able to vote. Provisional votes are most commonly made when the place of residency is in question to be in the voting district or if someone is actually registered to vote.

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The Columbus provisional votes were from the same household and the board of elections did not show in their records on Election Day that the house was in Columbus town limits. Research showed the home was in town limits, so the board voted to accept the votes as valid. The provisional votes included three votes each for Richard Hall and Marshall “Buddy” Watkins. One vote was made for Robert Williamson, so two of the three voters only made two selections out of three for Columbus Town Council.

The reason the house was not included in the county’s system was because the voters had never voted in a municipal election. The property was annexed years ago, but the property had not been added to the system.

Other provisional votes included four in Saluda and two in Tryon. The board accepted seven total provisional votes, including the three in Columbus, two in Saluda and two in Tryon.

Two ballots were rejected in Saluda because one thought she was in city limits but it was determined she was not. The other was rejected because the voter attempted to register in 2016 and was rejected. When the board sent the voter the rejection by mail then, it was returned as undeliverable. The voter showed up to vote this election expecting to be registered and was not even though his residence is within city limits. His registration was rejected because research showed he was registered in to vote in South Carolina and no records showed he was licensed in North Carolina, so the board questioned where the resident actually lived full-time.

Another vote was also counted as an absentee/supplemental vote from someone overseas.

Once the Columbus votes were verified and counted, the board gave Phillips and Jackson, who were both present, a chance to comment. Phillips said when he found out if the vote was a tie, it would have been broken by lot (coin toss, name out of a hat, etc.), he couldn’t believe it. Per state statute, if non-partisan elections are a tie, there is no run-off; instead the two candidates choose the method of lot and the board of elections breaks the tie in the presence of the two candidates. Phillips said that method takes the decision out of the hands of the voters.

“That’s how you decide who gets the ball first at a football game,” Phillips said.

After some discussion between Phillips, Jackson and the board, Phillips said he plans to call state legislators to try to get the law changed. Phillips said he thinks ties in municipal elections should be decided by a run-off, which is how partisan elections are decided. Phillips and members also discussed the law with Polk County Commissioner Chair Tommy Melton, who was also present. A resolution could be brought to the county board of commissioners to petition other counties throughout the state to join in trying to change the law.

Following the provisional and absentee validation and counting, the board of elections canvassed the votes, which makes them official.