Experts weigh in on what could be next for Atlantic Beach amid election drama

Published: Nov. 14, 2023 at 5:40 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 14, 2023 at 6:00 PM EST
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ATLANTIC BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - After the town of Atlantic Beach removed its entire election commission last Friday, experts say both the state’s and the county’s hands are tied.

Now, the situation may be up to the court. Mayoral candidate John David told WMBF News he is petitioning the court to take action in a lawsuit against Mayor Jake Evans and Councilwomen Josephine Isom and Jacqueline Gore.

The election drama came after ballots were contested last week, stretching out the certification process. Before the election commission met to certify, the town council called an emergency meeting and dissolved the commission, claiming that state laws had been violated.

Associate Political Science Professor at Coastal Carolina University, Drew Kurlowski said municipalities can only remove individual members from a commission for violating certain regulations. But, since Atlantic Beach removed its entire commission, that’s different under the law.

“If that is the case, it would be my understanding that well that they can’t do that,” said Kurlowski. “The municipality is required by state law to have a municipal election commission.”

Kurlowksi added that the only way an election commission can be dissolved is if the municipality has an agreement for the county to take over its elections. But, he said that agreement must be solidified beforehand.

“They can’t dissolve the commission and then go to the county and say, ‘We need you to do this,’” said Kurlowski.

The Horry County Election Commission tells WMBF News since the county isn’t in charge of the election, it can’t step in, and the South Carolina Election Commission said it can’t either.

“We don’t have the ability to make them certify the election or make them come back, we don’t have any authority,” said John Catalano, spokesperson for the state election commission.

Catalano said municipalities call the state election commission for a variety of issues, but he doesn’t remember speaking with anyone from Atlantic Beach.

“They definitely didn’t, to my knowledge, call the state election commission and ask if they could disband or not,” said Catalano.

Both Kurlowski and Catalano say what’s next may involve a lawsuit.

“Whether or not that entails a member of the commission who thinks they’ve been wrongly terminated from the commission, or whether or not it’s a voter who brings an action against the city or members of the council, I can’t say, “ said Kurlowski. “But, I think that’s probably where they’re headed, as they’ve reached kind of an impasse of what’s doable in the political world.”

WMBF News has reached out to an attorney who may have been used during the town’s elections to learn more but we have now heard back.

Stay with WMBF News for updates.