Number Crunch: Takeaways from the Sumter County Democratic primary runoff election

It’s often said in politics that campaigning for a primary, or a general election, is like running a marathon, while the two-week window to bring voters back to the polls for a runoff is more like a sprint.  On Tuesday in Sumter County, the remaining Democratic candidates for Sumter County Coroner, Sumter County Council District 1 and South Carolina House of Representatives District 50 sprinted to the tune of 6.68 percent voter turnout, which might be more aptly compared to a jog, if not a leisurely stroll.

harvin robbie map
Results from the 6/28/16 Democratic runoff for Sumter County Coroner. Key: Blue = Harvin, Purple=Baker, light blue = tie, white = no votes

But before we disparage the voter turnout too much, it has to be pointed out that Tuesday’s vote totals were much higher than the primary runoffs two years ago, when only 5.37 percent of Sumter County registered voters participated in the runoffs that involved both Democrat and Republican candidates for Superintendent of Education, as well as the Lieutenant Governor’s race on the GOP side.

Still, Tuesday’s numbers were also much lower than the similar runoff four years ago, in which more than 11 percent of Sumter County voters participated in either the Republican race for State Senate District 35 or, coincidentally enough, the Sumter County Coroner’s race on the Democratic side.

But with the recent voting now in the books, here are some of the things we can take away from the results by analyzing the turnout.

For at least one election, Rembert became the focal point of Sumter County

The fact that Rembert was the precinct with the highest percentage voter turnout should not be surprising, considering; 1) it was one of only three precincts in the county in which voters could participate in all three runoffs (nearby precincts Hillcrest and Thomas Sumter being the other two) and 2) tends to vote heavily Democratic.  After all, all three races available to voters Tuesday were Democratic primary runoffs and, in 2012, 85 percent of all Rembert voters cast ballots for President Obama.

Because of its relative separation from the city of Sumter, however, downtown voters might not realize Rembert has always had a larger number of registered voters than you might expect, and is in fact one of the largest precincts in Sumter County (only Green Swamp has more registered voters).

The large size of the area, coupled with voter turnout percentages nearly triple the rest of the county (nearly 17 percent of Rembert voters participated Tuesday), gave the northwest corner of the county a larger-than-normal influence on the results.  In this cycle, at least, Rembert accounted for more than six percent of all the votes cast in Sumter County. For comparison, Rembert voters made up less than two percent of the ballots cast in the 2012 general election.

Sumter County Coroner Harvin Bullock was able to win in Rembert, but the slight margin of victory there was not able to overcome more significant trends in Tuesday’s race, such as…

Republicans crossed-over and voted for Baker on Tuesday, but Democrats voted (barely) for Baker, as well.

There were seven precincts with higher than the average countywide turnout in Tuesday’s election that would be considered strong Republican precincts.  Green Swamp 2, Oswego, Wilson Hall, Mayewood, Swan Lake, Burns-Downs and Second Mill all gave Mitt Romney at least 64 percent of their vote back in 2012, and on Tuesday, they each had greater than seven percent turnout (compared to Sumter County’s 6.68 percent).  Three of them even saw double-digit voter participation in Tuesday’s balloting.

Among these Republican-leaning precincts, Baker won nearly 59 percent of the vote, defeating Bullock by almost 150 votes in these polling places alone, indicating some significant crossover balloting for the man who ran in 2004 for Sumter County Sheriff as the Republican nominee.

Still, the advantage Baker gained in these precincts was not as large as his margin of victory, which turned out to be about 224 votes, meaning he also received support in other areas of the county, as well, although not by the nearly 3-2 margin he had in these Republican heavy precincts.

Neither candidate for coroner engaged Sumter County’s vast non-white vote

Earlier this month, we talked about the continuing lack of participation at Shaw Air Force Base by locally registered voters there, but this result should be even more disconcerting, especially for Democrats.

There were 14 Sumter County precincts in Tuesday’s election in which more than 80 percent of the registered voters were non-white and where the only race on the ballot was the coroner’s campaign.  Of those 14 precincts, (Stone Hill, Bates, Savage-Glover, South Red Bay, Birnie, Wilder, Morris College, Loring, Salem, Mayesville, Folsom Park, Magnolia-Harmony, Lemira and South Liberty), only one – Mayesville – had above average turnout when compared to the rest of the county, and none of the  other precincts reached five percent participation.

In fact, six of these 14 precincts failed to reach three percent turnout, and the overall voter turnout for these precincts was 3.1 percent.  Among these voters, Baker defeated Bullock by 26 votes, 231 to 205, meaning nearly 10,000 registered voters in these precincts alone were not inspired enough by either candidate to cast a ballot.

Chris Sumpter (and his opponent) flat-out rocked the get-out-the-vote effort

 If the voter turnout in Sumter County was anemic overall, it wasn’t because of the efforts of the candidates in the Sumter County Council District 1 race.  Spanning over eight precincts in the county’s western portion, voter participation was 9.3 percent, well above the rest of the county average.

While this was anchored by the turnout in Rembert, as we discussed earlier, that wasn’t the only reason.     Horatio, the second-smallest precincts in the county, had the second-highest percentage of voters participate (nearly 14 percent) and was in among the 10 largest vote counts in absolute totals.  To put that in perspective, there were only seven fewer votes cast in Horatio than in Green Swamp, the county’s largest precinct, despite Horatio being nearly four times smaller.

Credit for this has to go to both Chris Sumpter, the victor in the county council runoff, as well as Caleb Mack Kershaw Jr, both of whom greatly grew their vote totals from two weeks prior.  Sumpter saw his vote count climb by nearly 17 percent from the first round of balloting, while Kershaw’s grew by nearly 50 percent.  Unfortunately for Kershaw, he was entering Tuesday’s runoff with a far smaller vote base than Sumpter had, making it incredibly difficult for him to catch the eventual winner.

Baker defeats Bullock for Sumter County Coroner; Sumpter, Wheeler win

robbie bakerSumter County will have a new coroner come January.

Robbie Baker, the 31-year veteran of local law enforcement, defeated two-term incumbent Harvin Bullock in Tuesday’s runoff for the Democratic nomination for Sumter County Coroner, defeating the incumbent in a spirited race by slightly less than 5 percentage points.

In doing so, without a Republic opponent in the November general election, Baker is all but assured to be elected and take office in January.

“I’m ecstatic and overwhelmed.  A lot of people went out and worked their tails off and had their faith in me, said Baker.  “I promise I won’t let them down.”

Baker’s victory came after he narrowly qualified for the runoff two weeks ago, finishing only 12 votes ahead of third-place finisher Isaac Johnson in the initial balloting.  But unlike a previous bid for office, however, this time Baker was able to come out victorious.

“I went down this track 12 years ago, and it didn’t work out for me.  But I’ve learned a lot and matured,” Baker said, referring to his 2004 bid to become Sumter County Sheriff, when he ran as a Republican but ultimately lost to current sheriff, Anthony Dennis.

While celebrating his victory, Baker also tipped his cap to Bullock, whom Baker said “ran a spirited, tough campaign.”

HarvinBullockBullock himself was gracious in defeat.  “I just want to congratulate Mr. Baker in his victory.  I hope he serves the community well,” he said.  “It appears the voters of the city of Sumter and Sumter County are ready for a change.  I just want to thank everyone that voted for me and supported me.  Although I didn’t win this election, I won with friends.”

While the Sumter County Coroner’s race was the closest race of the evening, it wasn’t the only one that had to wait until most of the votes were counted to determine the winner.

SumpterIn the Sumter County Council District 1 race, Chris Sumpter earned the Democratic nomination by defeating Caleb Mack Kershaw Jr., receiving slightly less than 59 percent of the vote.

Like Baker, he does not face Republican opposition in the November general election, meaning the 24-year-old nominee is well on his way to becoming one of the youngest county council members in Sumter County history.

“Thank you to so many of the voters of district one for coming out to vote in a runoff, in a time when people have to take more time to go out and vote,” Sumpter said, adding that he plans to immediately start working on constituent services and scheduling town hall meetings.  “Starting tomorrow, we’re back on it, visiting folks,” Sumpter said.

In the other race affecting a portion of Sumter County voters,  Will Wheeler easily defeated Tom Drayton for the Democratic nomination for the State House District 50 seat, currently held by long-time incumbent Grady Brown, who is retiring.

In the district that represents all of Lee County, as well as portions of Sumter and Kershaw Counties, Wheeler received nearly 74 percent of the vote.  Like the other two races in Sumter County, Wheeler does not face major party opposition in November.


Sumter County Primary Runoff Results – 6/28/16

vote counts

Updated 8:48 p.m.

Sumter County Coroner – Dem

57 of 58 Precincts Reporting

* – Robbie Baker – 2,472 votes – 52.4%

Harvin Bullock (i) – 2,248 votes – 47.6%


Sumter County Council – District 1 – Dem.

8 of 8 Precincts Reporting

Caleb Mack Kershaw Jr – 396 votes – 41.2%

* – Chris Sumpter – 565 votes – 58.8%


State House Dist. 50 – Dem (Sumter, Lee & Kershaw Counties)

32 of 32 Precincts Reporting

Tom Drayton – 977 votes – 26.1%

* – Will Wheeler – 2,770 votes – 73.9%


*  – projected winner

On the Campaign Trail: Chris Sumpter, candidate for Sumter County Council

We continue our series of interviews with candidates on the June 28th runoff ballot with the young man who finished atop a five-candidate field in the Democratic primary for Sumter County Council District 1.

SumpterChris Sumpter, the Crestwood High School graduate and former USC Sumter student body president, received 39 percent of the vote in the first round of balloting and will face Caleb Mack Kershaw Jr. in the next round.  Without any Republican opposition to face in the November general election, next Tuesday’s victor is all but guaranteed to replace outgoing incumbent Naomi Sanders on the council board.

The following is a brief interview between the Sumter Citizen and Sumpter.  Like our previous interview with Sumter County Coroner candidate Robbie Baker, his responses to questions are posted without interpretation. (Note: An invitation to conduct a similar interview has been extended to his opponent, as well.)

Sumter Citizen: I’ll admit, I’ve already asked this of another candidate, but I’m intrigued: what was Tuesday night like for you?

Chris Sumpter: Tuesday night was an incredible night, to realize that I had the support of the citizens in Sumter County Council District 1 that yielded 486 votes.  It was absolutely amazing to realize I had that support, and I’m just looking forward to have the opportunity to be able to serve the area.  Like I said, the night was just  incredible to have found that out.

SC: Campaigns are often marathons, but a runoff is a sprint.

CS: That’s right.

SC: What do you need to do over the next week-and-a-half to insure that, when it’s a race between two people, that you come out on top?

CS: Over the next week-and-a-half it’s very essential that I get out and meet with my supporters to get them to get back out to vote the 28th.  More than that, I’m going to make sure I do that, but I’m also going to reach out to my opponents that did not make it to the runoff, and also look to get their support, as well.

SC:  Fair enough.  I apologize for asking this question, but how old are you?

CS: 24.

SC: You’re a relatively young man, but at the same time, if you look at your resume, it’s pretty clear you’ve been gearing yourself for the political world, if not for elected office.  That being said, what made you choose running for county council?

CS:  I chose to run for county council in Fall 2015.

SC:  But what made you choose that race?

CS:  I made that decision based on the fact of the matter that I feel like I’m able to serve the citizens on a local level, and be much more effective on county council than I can in any other capacity at this time.

SC: What do you think are the major issues facing District 1, and how do those differ from the rest of the county?

CS:  There are a significant amount of issues that District 1 faces, but if I had to talk about one or two that are a greater priority for me, I would talk about the ones that I have been campaigning on: accessibility and awareness.  We talk about having different programs and bigger community centers, playgrounds, and different resources for the area.  The fact of the matter is, a lot of these resources are already available.  It’s just unfortunate that District 1 has not been aware of these resources where they could utilize them to the best of their advantage.  When I talk in terms of accessibility, the citizens, they want to see things.  Of course, we’re not able to correct every single citizen’s want.  But the fact of the matter is, if you can sit down, and talk to them about the issues, and come to a compromise, whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, rich or poor, that’s what the citizens want.  And those are going to be the central things that lead to bigger things that will benefit all the citizens of District 1 and all of Sumter County.

SC:  Taking Sumter County as a whole then, what do think is the biggest issue facing the county that you’ll be facing when you serve on the board, if you’re elected?

CS: One of the key issues that I saw when speaking with folks when I’m out on the campaign trail is finances.  We’re all paying into a pie, and we’re not all getting a fair share of the pie.  And that’s a big problem.  We’re paying taxes, and, sure enough,  if you d purchase a product, you’re going to pay sales tax on it.  Further, beyond that, if you’re a property owner, you’re going to be paying taxes on that property.  So, what’s happening folks in the entire county is, folks are paying into this pie and they’re not getting their fair share.

SC: Now, are you talking about, is that an issue within the county, or are you talking about taxes that are being paid to the state and then being returned to Sumter?

CS: Being returned to Sumter.  And folks are having a big issue with that.  What it leads to is, when we talk about infrastructure and things of that nature on the county level, folks want to see that and they want to see things get done within a timely manner, and when they don’t see that, they have an issue.  They’re like, “Hey, where are our tax dollars going?”  And I think it all boils down to accountability.  Not necessarily accountability in the sense of whoever that elected official is and what they’re doing and what they’re not doing,  but accountability for the tax dollars being accounted for and put to great use.

SC: So, do you see your role, if elected to Sumter County Council, of one that needs to turn around and be lobbying the State House on behalf of Sumter County, and if so, is that where you’re leaning toward your experience of working in the State House?

CS:  That’s exactly it.  You hit it dead on the head.  I believe at with my current contacts in Columbia and the State House, I’ll be able to lobby to make sure that our county and local government is fully funded. We can only go for so long with our local government not being fully funded and relying on millage increases. 

SC:  Part of your campaign materials, on e of the things you talked about when addressing transparency, you mentioned specifically trying to minimize executive sessions with Sumter County Council.  Was there a specific issue that led you to want to focus on this, or is this just a broad goal that you have?

CS: It’s not a specific issue.  It’s a broad goal that I’d like to see accomplished, and I came up with that idea after speaking with citizens across the county.  I heard enough people say there’s not enough transparency, there’s too many back room meetings.  I just got to thinking, what can we do to reduce that?  Let’s be more transparent so folks that voted you in can know what’s going on, they know how you’re voting.  They know what your ayes or nays are going to be for, and moreover, let’s do more of it publicly.  We don’t need to go into executive session when these folks are sending you up there to represent them.  It becomes a big issue.

SC:  Do you think Sumter County Council spends too much time in executive session?

CS: I would say so.  There have been instances, not to mention anything specifically,   here I’ve conversed with folks in my district, and they’ve pointed that out.

SC: Looking at your campaign site, you’ve talked about working on the family farm, you’ve talked about working in the State House.  You’ve talked about leading student government when you were in college.  What’s the one experience you’re going to be drawing on in serving the people if you are elected?

CS: I think the one big experience I have that I’m going to draw on when serving the people is that I’m a businessman.  At the end of the day, I understand what the average business needs.  Having ownership of a farm, I realized real quick that money is real tight, and a lot of times you have to sacrifice, and that’s something that’s missing from our political spectrum.  Folks get elected, and they don’t realize what the average business goes through.  With my experience of being a farmer, I know  on hand what it means if labor can’t get paid.  In fact, there’s times when you own a farm, you don’t get paid, but everybody else that’s working for you, they do.

On the Campaign Trail: Robbie Baker, candidate for Sumter County Coroner

On June 28, Sumter County voters will return to the polls once again to settle the Democratic Party nomination in two runoffs for Sumter County specific offices, the Sumter County Coroner’s race and the Sumter County Council District 1 race.  (A third race that some Sumter County citizens can participate in, the State House of Representatives District 50 race, features two candidates from outside the county to represent portions of Sumter and Kershaw Counties, as well as Lee County). 

Since there is no Republican opponent for the Democratic nominees to face in the November general election, the June 28 contest will all but guarantee the winner a four-year term in office.

In what we hope will be a four-part series, we plan to speak with the four candidates remaining and allow them to answer questions and post their responses without interpretation. (Note: invitations were extended to each of the four candidates as of Friday afternoon.)

robbie bakerWe start with Robbie Baker, one of the two remaining candidates in Sumter County Coroner’s race.

Sumter Citizen: Let’s start with Tuesday night, where the election was about as close as it could be on whether or not you’d actually make it into the runoff.  Tell me a little about what that night was like for you.

Robbie Baker: It was hot.  We were upstairs on the second floor of the old courthouse.  The air conditioner was broken.  The room was packed with people, so we were sweating, not to mention the fact that we were looking at the results and we’d go up by 25 votes, then we’d be down by 15.  Then we’d be up by 10 votes.  Then we’d be down by 15.  It kind of did that most of the evening until the last two precincts came in.  I actually won one of the last two precincts and was second I the other, and Mr. Johnson was in third in both of those, so that’s what put me over the top.  It was a nail-biter, back and forth, back and forth, and you didn’t know which precincts were reporting, they were just bringing them to us in bulk numbers and putting them on the screen.  So, it was nerve racking, to tell you the truth.

SC:  I bet.  To that end, you did finish second.  The election has been certified, so you’re in the runoff which means about a week and a half from now, people have to get back to the polls to vote again.  What are you doing to get those people back on the 28th?

RB:  Without divulging too much information that might go to my opponent, I’ve got a base of people who are going to be rallying and personally contacting people.  And what we’re going to do, we’re going to reach out and not only try to touch the base that we reached this past election, but we’re going to reach out and try to touch those that also supported Mr. Johnson.  And we’re also going to reach out and try to touch all those untapped resources of registered independents and Republicans.  Those that did not vote in this past election last Tuesday are free and welcome to come over and vote in my election Tuesday, and it does not affect how they can vote as far as November is concerned.  So what I’m asking is that Republicans and independents that did not vote, come on over and make your vote count and your voice be heard.  This is an important local elected position, and I think that, number one, it’s a constitutional right that’s granted to you, but it’s a privilege that people before us fought and died to give us the right to do, so make your voice be heard.  I don’t care what your party affiliation is, come and vote for me because you think I’m the best qualified.  And on paper, and in all other sense, I am the best qualified.  So, I’m asking all those who did not participate for one reason or another…we’re going to be personally contacting them and personally following up with them to get them out to the polls.

SC:  O.K., and along those lines, since you brought it up and it is something that has been put out there, your opponent, the incumbent, Harvin Bullock, has recently to social media and letting folks know that in the past you have run for public office as a Republican.  How do you answer those critics that are saying you shouldn’t be in the Democratic Party race in the first place?

RB:  There’s a couple of ways I answer that question.  Like I did at the forum a week-and-a-half ago, or two weeks ago, nobody from the Republican Party even contacted me or asked me to step up to the plate and run as a Republican in the coroner’s race.  I had two gentlemen in Sumter, one was African-American, one was white, they asked me and told me they would support me 100 percent if I ran as a Democrat.  I felt like I didn’t have a problem with that, because as far as I was concerned, I’m not defined by party affiliation.  I stand on my own two feet.  I’m my own man.  I’m a straight shooter, I tell it like it is, and nobody from the Republican Party even contacted me.

And as far as the coroner’s office is concerned, I really don’t see party affiliation, because you’re dealing with the death of an individual and the family and answering their questions.  It doesn’t matter to me, that individual that’s lost their life by whatever means, it doesn’t matter to me if they’re Democrat, Republican, independent, black, white, rich, poor, Asian, Hispanic, gay, straight, it doesn’t matter to me.  I don’t see party affiliation when it comes to them.

SC: You announced your decision to run for office back in December, is that right?

RB:  I believe it was in late December.  It was either late December or early January.

SC: And one of the things you’ve been putting out in your campaign materials and you’ve been touting is your law enforcement experience.  You’ve served for 31 years in local law enforcement.  What is the best thing that comes from that qualification to help you in the coroner’s office?

RB:  Two things.  Personal contact with people in the most adverse and terrible situations.  Having to sit down with them, on any kind of an issue, and having to mediate a problem.  Talking to people face to face.  Being compassionate, but yet being forceful when I need to be.  Being straight forward and honest.  But the biggest thing is, five of those years that I worked with the sheriff’s office, and I still work with them, I was a homicide investigator.  I was a fire fatality investigator.  So I’ve worked every type of death investigation, from homicide, suicide, accidental drowning, accidental overdoses, natural deaths, fire fatality, I’m certified as a fire investigator, so I’ve been to autopsies, too many of them.  I’ve actually made arrests from murder cases from start to finish.  And I’ve to deal with hundreds of other deaths.  Car wrecks, shootings. 

So, I know what I’m looking at.  I know about evidence collection, evidence preservation, and I know about the importance of treating that body, as crude as it might sound, once it’s dead, it’s a piece of evidence.  It’s got to be handled properly, but also, dealing with those families, not in the sense that that body is a piece of evidence, that body is a human being.  It was a family member.  And I’m the only candidate of the two that’s left that’s actually a certified investigator with the Criminal Justice Academy in Columbia.   

SC: Then taking your experience and implying it to the coroner’s office, what do you think is the most important role of the coroner in his position, in his duties?

RB:  Determining the cause and the manner of a death and then relaying that information to the family in a timely fashion and a professional manner.  Compassionate, but yet being able to sit down with family members face-to-face, in the most adverse time of their life, and providing some answers to them, and being able to tell some things about that person’s death that they might not want to hear.  That’s got to be done compassionately, but it’s also got to be done.  It’s a positive job that’s got to be done.  And in my 31+ years of law enforcement, I’ve had to sit down and mediate all kinds of different problems, from domestic disputes, disturbances, to delivering bad news in the middle of the night that someone’s lost a loved one.  You’ve got to be able to sit down and talk with people.  You’ve got to be a people person, which is what I am.  But also, you’ve got to be someone that’s knowledgeable and experienced.

SC: In another part of your campaign materials, you do have a phrase that, in a certain light, might be considered, let’s say, aggressive toward the incumbent.  You say in it specifically “let’s take the conflict of interest out of the coroner’s office and take the coroner’s office out of the funeral home.”  That’s obviously pointing to the incumbent, who also operates a funeral home.  Why do feel that that’s necessary?

RB: Well, number one, I don’t take it as a personal attack.  I take it as an attack on his record, or lack of a record.  And I stand behind what I say.  I wrote that statement.  I stood up at the NAACP forum just two weeks ago, looked at him face-to-face, he was sitting right beside me, and I repeated the same message.  And I’ll tell you the reason why it’s a conflict of interest. You’re in the business of pronouncing a person’s death, but you’re also, on the other hand in the business, of burying the dead.  And you’re the first funeral home that has any contact with the family members of the deceased.  And, you can’t tell me that…and also by storing bodies from someone that’s lost their life, not putting them in a county morgue, which is a neutral site, instead you’re having those bodies transported to your funeral home, for people having to go in there the next day, with people in the worst shape of their life, and they’re having to make decisions on it and, “oh, by the way, I provide this service. The body’s at this funeral home.  Why don’t you let me go ahead and take care of it.”  That’s an unfair, built-in advantage over every other, 9, 10, 11 funeral homes in Sumter that are competing, trying to make a living.  They don’t have that unfair, built-in advantage where they have contact with the family members of the deceased within the first 10 minutes. 

Of course, the other point, I make no bones about the fact that my opponent is the only county elected official in Sumter County that conducts county business inside a private business, at his funeral home.  Every other county elected official in Sumter County conducts their business either in a county building, or the sheriff, who I work for, is in the sheriff’s department.  Every other county elected official conduct the people’s business…the office of coroner, I’ve told people this and I stand by it; the office of coroner is an elected official and his business belongs to the people.  The people’s business needs to be conducted in the peoples’ building, which is the courthouse on Main Street.

SC:  So, what you’re saying is, you don’t just perceive a potential conflict of interest with the incumbent, you believe he actually has operated with a conflict of interest over the past term?

RB:  I make no bones about it.  I’ve known people for 25 or 30 years that have had experiences with the coroner’s office, and they’ve heard with their own ears, and heard the coroner make reference to the fact that he, you know, “I’m in the funeral business. I’m already here. Let me take care of it for you.”  I’ve got police officers, I’ve got firefighters, paramedics, that have all seen and heard, within the first 10 minutes of scenes, where Bullock Funeral Home was mentioned in the same conversation with family members that just lost a loved one because he’s in the business of it.  Now, that’s not fair to all the other funeral homes in Sumter who don’t have that unfair, built-in advantage.  They’re out there trying to compete and do business.  I’m not bashing the funeral home business.  One of them is going to bury me one day.  Not one business should have an unfair, built-in advantage over the others.

SC:  Let’s say you’ve been elected to office; let’s play the hypothetical.  You’ve got a four-year commitment to Sumter County serving as the coroner.  How do you see that position growing, or what needs to be changed, as opposed to how it’s been operated in the past?

RB:  There are two promises I’ve made to the citizens of Sumter County, and I’ll have no problem fulfilling those promises; I will be a full-time dedicated coroner. It will be the only job that I have.  If I’m elected, I’ll have to mandatorily resign from the sheriff’s office.  So I will be a full-time coroner.  There won’t be any other job I do on the side other than being a 24/7 coroner.

The second thing I’m going to do is, the coroner’s office is going to move back into the courthouse on Main Street, so that it’s conveniently located for all the citizens of Sumter County, but also for transparency and accountability purposes.  The county’s business and the coroner’s office is going to be conducted in a public building.


Number Crunch: Why Shaw Air Force Base completely avoided the Sumter County primaries

shawAs the final vote tallies were coming in for Tuesday’s primary, it became clear that several key Sumter County races would be decided by very small margins.  And it’s fair to imagine that several of the candidates spent the night watching the final returns come in were wondering whether or not that last precinct box might determine their fate.

This was especially true in the Sumter County Coroner race where, with one precinct left to report, there were a scant 16 votes separating the second- and third-place candidates in the Democratic primary. And what came out of that last precinct could have been vitally important.  After all, finish second and you’re in the runoff in two weeks.  Finish third, thanks for playing. 

So, if Isaac Johnson, who was trailing Robbie Baker by that small margin at the time, was aware the final precinct to report was Shaw precinct – Sumter County’s precinct dedicated to residents of Shaw Air Force Base – and he knew the past voting habits of that locale, he might have also realized his chances of catching Baker were dire.

But I doubt he would have realized exactly how grim they were.  Because, while the Shaw precinct has been synonymous throughout the years with poor voter turnout, it’s impossible to get any lower than it did Tuesday.  

When the votes were tallied, the final number of votes cast by the 608 registered voters in the precinct encapsulated by the local Air Force Base? Zero.  Nada. Not a single one.

Let’s repeat that: Not a single registered voter at Shaw Air Force Base participated in Tuesday’s election.

Now, let’s be clear: this isn’t to say local military personnel in general did not participate in the recent election.  After all, many of them live outside the confines of the air force base, and would have cast their ballots at other precinct locations.  But for the poll workers at Shaw Heights Elementary, the voting location for the Shaw precinct, Tuesday would turn out to be a very, very uneventful day.

While not definitive, here are some of the factors that might have attributed to this:

1) The official registered voter count is horribly wrong.  Just four months ago, when Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush and the gang rolled through Sumter looking for support in the presidential preference primaries, the number of people registered to vote at Shaw was dramatically different.

According to the South Carolina Election Commission, back in February only 310 people were registered to vote at Shaw, of which 19 participated in one of the two primaries.  This equaled 6.2 percent voter turnout at the time, a number that might be considered nose-turning, but not necessarily jaw-dropping like Tuesday’s result.

But despite the low turnout in February, just four months later, according to the South Carolina Election Commission, the number of Shaw Air Force Base residents registered to vote nearly doubled to 608 registered voters.  This seems highly unlikely.

In fact, while every precinct in Sumter County saw its number of registered voters increase between the February election and the June election, no other precinct came close to the 49 percent uptick in registered voters Shaw experienced.  In fact, the next highest was the Palmetto Park precinct, which only saw an increase of registered voters of slightly more than 14 percent.  Overall, Sumter County saw a nine percent uptick in registered voters since February, which itself is impressive considering the county’s population growth has been stagnant, if not actually shrinking, over the past few years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

This isn’t to say there are no registered voters at Shaw Air Force Base.  Still, zero votes out of any number of registered voters is still zero percent.

2) Perhaps they voted absentee?  In each election, when absentee votes are recorded, they’re placed into their own category, effectively a separate precinct, instead of being redistributed into the counts of the voter’s home precinct.  And just like Shaw is known for its low totals, Sumter County is known for having wildly disproportionate absentee voting when compared to the rest of the state. 

This was once again the case this week, when 1,929 of the 7,920 votes, nearly one-quarter of all the Sumter County votes cast, were absentee.  Statewide, about 12.4 percent of the total votes cast were absentee, meaning a Sumter County voter was twice as likely to use an absentee ballot than the average South Carolinian.

And it’s true that absentee ballots were created, in part, for voters like those at Shaw, who hold the types of jobs that could make them unavailable on Election Day.  Still, even if you were to say that a voter at Shaw was twice as likely as the average Sumter County voter was, who is already twice as likely to vote absentee than the rest of the state, that still only gets you up to about 30 votes.

3) Sumter is simply not engaging the Shaw community like it should.  This conclusion might upset many of the local officials who stress the importance of Shaw in their stump speeches, but Tuesday’s numbers, or lack thereof, show the feeling is not reciprocated.  While Sumter County officials might like to say Shaw is important to Sumter, the lack of votes by rank-and-file military personnel made it pretty clear they don’t feel that Sumter is that important to Shaw.

Honestly, this shouldn’t be shocking.  After all, for all the bluster about “uncommon patriotism” and the importance of the base to the community, most of the focus by our local officials is on base retention and not on improving the quality of life for those that live there.  We tend to worry more about development encroachment on the base than we do for what it’s like for some early 20-something enlisted airman to make this community his or her home.  When we do worry about military individuals, it’s geared more toward retirees than active duty personnel.

All you have to do is a few quick searches online.  Review after review show the folks stationed at Shaw think the base itself is all right, but that the community outside its gates is sorely lacking.   One reviewer, who said he pulled from various sources throughout the internet, went so far as to rank Shaw as the second-worst base to be stationed stateside.  It begs the question, why vote in a local election when you’re not a big fan of that locale?

The fact of the matter is, as difficult as the Shaw results Tuesday are to comprehend, we should have seen this coming.  “It’s not the first time it’s happened,” said Pat Jefferson, Director of the Sumter County Election Commission/Voter Registration Office after certifying the election results Thursday. 

But it’s something that ultimately can be, and one might even argue has to be, turned around.  If we are truly going to have symbiotic relationship with the local military installation, we need to find better ways to get them engaged.

For the politician that pulls that off, it could be quite rewarding.  After all, according to the official figures, there are more than 600 voters waiting to be swayed, not to mention the votes of military personnel living outside the base. 

 In future elections, hopefully these military folks will feel as strong a desire to participate in Sumter as Sumter feels to be involved in the developments at Shaw.  Granted, that could take some time.  For Harvin Bullock and Robbie Baker, the two remaining candidates for Sumter County Coroner, they have two weeks to sway an electorate that, as of Tuesday, was completely untapped.

ALERT: Severe Thunderstorm Warning for Sumter

tsraThe National Weather Service has issued a Severe Thunderstorm Warning for Sumter County and surrounding areas.

With the weather pattern, the NWS warns that a storm moving 30 miles per hour is coming through the Sumter area and could have wind gusts up to 60 miles per hour and could contain hail.

The NWS says damages to roofs and trees, and is suggesting people move to interior rooms of a lower floor of any building they might be in at the time.  The warning is in effect until 3:15 p.m., and the NWS is also forecasting that thunderstorms are likely for tonight, as well.

Incumbents successful in Tuesday’s Sumter County primaries, but just barely

Political pundits have said for years that incumbency offers definite advantages when running for re-election. In Sumter County on Tuesday, local Democrat incumbents needed every single advantage they could possibly find, as several of them were pushed to the brink of defeat, and at least one still has work to do.

The focus for Sumter County voters Tuesday was primarily on local Democrats since Republicans only had one contested primary, and that race was in just a portion of the county.  In that contest, Mick Mulvaney easily dispatched a token challenger in his bid for reelection to the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Democratic Party, however, had far more dramatic contests.

HarvinBullockOne yet to be decided for Democrats is the Sumter County Coroner’s race, where incumbent Harvin Bullock garnered slightly less than 38 percent of the vote, and will face a runoff challenger in two weeks.  That challenger will most likely be Robbie Baker, however this itself is not certain.  With one precinct yet to report – the notoriously lightly balloted Shaw precinct – Baker led fellow candidate Isaac Johnson by only 16 votes.

COCJamieCampbellIn the other countywide race, incumbent Jamie Campbell was able to overcome an early deficit due to strong absentee voting for his opponent, Kevin Johnson, to ultimately win his party’s nomination with slightly more than 55 percent of the vote.  While a relatively close election, this would turn out to be the widest margin any incumbent running for the Democratic Party’s nomination would win by Tuesday night.

mcgnyIn Sumter County Council District 5, incumbent and current County Chairwoman Vivian Fleming-McGhaney received slightly more than 52 percent of the vote, avoiding a runoff herself by only 57 votes.  In doing so, Fleming-McGhaney defeated Frank Williams Jr., himself a former county chairman.  Williams received slightly less than 40 percent of the vote in the three-person race.

In State House District 64, which represents portions of Clarendon and Sumter Counties, incumbent Bobby Ridgeway also narrowly avoided having to enter a runoff by garnering 52 percent of the vote.  His closest rival, Alexander Herc Conyers, received 39 percent of the vote.

In addition to the coroner’s race, there will be two other runoffs for voters in some portions of Sumter County.  In the State House District 50 race, where six Democrats were looking to replace retiring representative Grady Brown, Will Wheeler and Tom Drayton were the top two candidates and will go head-to-head in the runoff, which in the Sumter County Council District 1 race, Chris Sumpter and Caleb Mack Kershaw Jr. will face-off in two weeks, as well.

The final numbers from yesterday’s local races can be seen here.

The upcoming runoffs will be held on June 28, with polls once again open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.  Anyone who either voted in the Democratic Primary on Tuesday or did not vote at all will be eligible to participate. Those voters who participated in the Republican primary on Tuesday will not be allowed to cast ballots in these races.

Sumter County Primary Election Results – 6/14/16

vote counts

Updated 10:18 p.m.

Sumter County Clerk of Court – Dem

57 of 58 Precincts Reporting

* Jamie Campbell (i) – 3,756 votes – 55.3%

Kevin Johnson – 3,034 votes – 44.7%


Sumter County Coroner – Dem

57 of 58 Precincts Reporting

** Harvin Bullock (i) – 2,577 votes – 37.7%

Robbie Baker – 2,134 votes – 31.3%

Isaac Johnson  – 2,118 votes – 31.0%


Sumter County Council – District 1 – Dem.

8 of 8 Precincts Reporting

** Chris Sumpter – 484 votes – 39.0%

** Caleb Mack Kershaw Jr – 265 votes – 21.4%

Roland Robinson – 228 votes – 18.4%

Barbara Bowman – 208 votes – 16.8%

Alphonso Johnson – 56 votes – 4.5%


Sumter County Council – Dist. 3 – Dem.

7 of 7 Precincts Reporting

* Patty L Wilson – 448 votes – 66.6%

James R Self – 225 votes – 33.4%


Sumter County Council – Dist. 5 – Dem.

12 of 12 Precincts Reporting

* Vivian Fleming-McGhaney (i) – 682 votes – 52.2%

Frank Williams Jr – 521 votes – 39.9%

Geraldine Gamble – 104 votes – 8.0%


State House Dist. 50 – Dem (Sumter, Lee & Kershaw Counties)

** Will Wheeler – 1,580 votes – 34.5%

** Tom Drayton – 956 votes – 20.9%

Brian Alston –  795 votes – 17.3%

Demoine Kinney – 753 votes – 16.4%

Crystal K. Cunningham – 331 votes – 7.2%

Keith Johnson – 169 votes – 3.7%


State House Dist 64 – Dem (Clarendon and Sumter Counties)

All Precincts reporting

* Robert L Ridgeway III (i) – 3,656 votes – 52.0%

Alexander Herc Conyers – 2,765 votes – 39.3%

Mitch Ellerby – 615 votes – 8.7%


U.S. House of Representatives – Dist 5 – GOP – Statewide

* Mick Mulvaney (i) – 21,803 votes – 77.9 %

Ray Craig – 6,195 votes – 22.1 %


Key:  (i) – incumbent, *-projected winner, **-projected runoff


Low voter turnout could give GOP voters influence in Dem primary today

vote countsPotential low voter turnout in today’s Sumter County primary could end up giving local Republicans and independents, especially those who live in Sumter County’s eastern portion, the rare opportunity to greatly influence the results in the Democratic primary.

Light voter turnout is being reported so far today throughout Sumter County, creating the possibility for a relatively small number of votes to sway local elections.

Sumter County Republicans only have one contested primary to choose from this this year – the U.S. House of Representatives 5th District between incumbent Mick Mulvaney and Ray Craig – and that race is only available to about half of Sumter County voters.  Sumter County is almost equally divided between the Fifth and Sixth Congressional Districts, and there is not primary competition for either party in the Sixth this year.

This presents an opportunity for Republicans and independents to cross parties and vote in the Democratic primary, since South Carolina operates its elections with an open primary system, meaning voters are not required to register their partisan preference and can vote in either primary.  This is made even easier in South Carolina, which separates its presidential primary from state and local ballots, meaning voters who cast presidential ballots in February in one party can cross over at vote in the other party’s primary today.  So even if voters cast ballots in the Republican presidential race, they can still vote in the Democratic primary.

And while some Republicans might have an aversion to voting in the Democratic primary, in two countywide races this could likely be they’re only chance to cast a ballot.

In the Sumter County Clerk of Court race, incumbent Jamie Campbell faces a challenge from Kevin Johnson (not to be confused with the state senator with the same name).  In the Sumter County Coroner’s race, two men – Robbie Baker and Isaac Johnson – are looking to unseat incumbent Harvin Bullock.  Since none of these Democrats will face a Republican challenger in November, today’s Democratic primary has effectively become the general election for those seats.

Polls in Sumter County remain open until 7 p.m. today.