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.

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