State: Atlantic Beach refused to return voting machines

Mayor Retha Pierce speaks with a HCSO deputy (Source: WMBF News Photographer Ian Dorety)
Mayor Retha Pierce speaks with a HCSO deputy (Source: WMBF News Photographer Ian Dorety)
Deputies retrieve evidence (Source: WMBF News Photographer Ian Dorety)
Deputies retrieve evidence (Source: WMBF News Photographer Ian Dorety)

ATLANTIC BEACH, SC (WMBF) WMBF News has learned why a Judge issued an order to seize voting machines from the Town of Atlantic Beach Tuesday afternoon, and the entire ordeal was caught on tape.

Capt. Steve Parker with the Horry County Sheriff's Office, told WMBF News Tuesday morning that deputies were at Atlantic Beach Town Hall, servicing a "claim and delivery" order for a voting machine.

That order came from the court and Judge Bradley Mayers.

The voting machines were supposed to be returned to Horry County following the town's disputed November municipal election, which saw Councilman Jake Evans unseat Mayor Retha Pierce as the town's mayor. Councilman Evans says he was unaware the city was even still in the possession of the machines.

"For it to be a month later and find out that Atlantic Beach is still in possession of those items is a shock to me," says Councilman Evans.

Mayor Pierce told WMBF News Tuesday afternoon that the machine was locked in an evidence room at the police department, of which she didn't have a key for and could not get a hold of the Chief of Police in Atlantic Beach.

Pierce said she called the Attorney General as well as someone in the Governor's office about the situation.

Around 1:45 p.m., a locksmith was called to the Town Hall in order to open the evidence room, where the machine is said to be located.

Around 2:30 p.m., the machine was transported back to the Horry County Sheriff's Office to be held as they wait for further instruction from Judge Mayers.

WMBF News wanted to get to the bottom of why the order was issued, so we spoke with Chris Whitmire, Director of Public Information and Training at the South Carolina State Election Commission.

Whitmire said the Horry County Election Commission notified the State that the Town of Atlantic Beach was refusing to return voting equipment. The State then told Horry Co. to get the machines Tuesday "whether you need the Sheriff or a Judge's order."

The State also wanted Horry Co. to gain possession of the machines not only because they belong to the County, but because there was no pending protest, no protest appeal and the election was over a month ago.

Whitmire said the Town was claiming to hold the equipment in order to conduct their own tests, but there are issues with that.

"We have an investigation here, ongoing with our internal staff," says Mayor Pierce.

But emails obtained by WMBF news from Horry County attorneys say that if someone opened a machine who wasn't authorized, the warranty could be voided and there was a security concern.

If the Town wanted to have tests conducted, they should have gone through the County to do so, as the equipment belongs to the County. Atlantic Beach provided no evidence there was anything wrong with the machines.

As for what is inside the machines, Whitmire told WMBF News that the machines hold images of every ballot cast on election day and shows any and every action taken on election day.

WMBF News was able to obtain a copy of the order. To view that order, click here (PDF).

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