Municipal election changes coming

  • Wednesday, July 24, 2013

At a special Mount Pleasant Town Council meeting Wednesday officials approved a first reading on an ordinance to change the way officials are elected in Mount Pleasant municipal elections. A candidate must win by a majority of votes cast or face a runoff. Plurality elections have been what determined winners in the past.

Second reading is scheduled for the Aug. 13 town council meeting.

In the case of the mayor, it would be a top two person runoff. In the case of the council election it would be the number of top vote getters plus one for the number of offered seats. If a council candidate receives a majority in the first election he wins and the runoff is between the next top three plus one.

Mount Pleasant Mayor Billy Swails, who is not seeking reelection abstained from the vote with no reason given, and councilwoman Linda Page was not present (due to being out of town on business).

Why change now? Mount Pleasant Mayor Billy Swails has said that in a scenario that there could be potentially 10 people running and one getting 11 percent and the balance getting nine percent each it is not a majority vote. The suggestion for the change came from current council members Chris Nickels and Chris O’Neal who have fast-tracked the idea through calling for a special Police, Legal, and Judicial meeting and a special town council meeting.

“The current plurality system works fine when only two candidates are running, but it clearly may not represent the interests of most voters if more than two candidates run.

When it’s just two people, a simple majority is by definition obtained by the winner. However, when three or more candidates are in a race, the waters get murkier and a winner can emerge without a simple majority, but rather just a plurality,” they said in an op-ed in last week’s Moultrie News. There has been no talk of asking residents their feelings on the issue through a referendum or otherwise. Nickels and Swails said in the special town council meeting that they have heard nothing negative on the idea.

Both Nickels and O’Neal said it makes more sense to have a majority system where, if no candidate gets 50 percent-plus-one of the votes cast, a runoff is held between the top two vote-getters. “Today, runoffs are used in many U.S. cities that have non-partisan elections, primarily because the contests are more likely to draw more than two candidates. The majority system allows voters to have a second chance to vote for their chosen candidate, or even to change their minds between the first and the second rounds,” the editorial claims. The state statute allows municipalities to choose the plurality method or the run-off method.

Mount Pleasant Legal Council David Pagliarini drafted a proposed ordinance based on the state’s mandate.

(Section 36.22 NONPARTISAN ELECTIONS; RUNOFF METHOD. All regular and special elections for the offices of Mayor, Council and for Commissioners of Public Works, shall be nonpartisan general elections using the runoff method, pursuant to S.C. Code § 5-15-62).

Winning candidates in the run-off will begin their terms at the next regularly scheduled town council meeting following the run-off.

The following examples utilize actual vote counts from the 2009 and 2011 TOMP elections to reflect results using the proposed runoff election/majority method. Under this method the candidate must achieve a majority of votes to avoid a runoff. Please note that the term majority does not necessarily mean more than 50 percent if the two or more seats are at stake (Council elections.) For the formulas referenced below refer to SC Code section 5-15-62.

Example # 1: 2009 TOMP (Mayor)

Majority = Total votes for all candidates/2

In this election three candidates sought the position.

The results were:

Bustos: 4,251

Santos: 2,844

Swails: 5,957

Write In: 27

TOTAL Votes = 13,079

Using the statutory formula: MAJORITY = 13,079 (total votes)/2. MAJORITY = 6,539.5

No candidate achieved a majority. Therefore a runoff (two weeks after the election) between the two candidates receiving the most votes (Bustos and Swails) would have been required.

Example # 2: 2009 TOMP (Council - 4 Seats available)

MAJORITY = Total Votes cast for ALL candidates/Number of office to fill. Then divide by two.

In this election 19 candidates sought four seats.

The results were:


#1: 1,829

#2: 1,873

#3: 4,283*

#4: 3,740*

#5: 2,629

#6: 703

#7: 3,021

#8: 3,343*

#9: 1,709

#10: 622

#11: 2,760

#12: 1,227

#13: 4,404*

#14: 190

#15: 2,447

#16: 3,570*

#17: 1,330

#18: 2,221

#19: 2,665

Write In: 94

TOTAL Votes = 44,660

Using the statutory formula:

MAJORITY = 44,660 (total votes)/4 (number of seats) = 11,165. Result is then divided by 2 = 5,582.

Therefore, the majority number in this example is 5,582. No candidate achieved majority. Therefore a runoff would be required. The runoff would consist of one (1) more than the number of candidates necessary to fill vacant offices. As no candidates achieved majority the runoff would consist of the top five candidates (candidates 3, 4, 8, 13 and 16.) In the runoff, the top four would be elected.

Example # 3: 2011 TOMP (Council - 4 Seats available)

In this election nine candidates sought four seats.

The results were:


#1: 2,954

#2: 2,668

#3: 1,189

#4: 3,263

#5: 330

#6: 3,171

#7: 3,131

#8: 3,069

#9: 3,662

Write In: 55

TOTAL Votes = 23,492

Using the statutory formula: MAJORITY = 23,492 (total votes)/4 (number of seats) = 5,873. Result is then divided by 2 = 2,936.5

Therefore, the majority in this example is 2,936.5. Six candidates achieved the majority figure and NO RUNOFF would be necessary. The top four candidates would win the seats without a runoff.

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