By Stan Welch
The Anderson County Republican Party held its annual election of delegates and officers Monday night, in a storm of controversy and confusion. At the center of the controversy was the fact that fifteen more ballots were cast by delegates than there were delegates. A supposed total of one hundred sixty one delegates cast a total of one hundred seventy six ballots.
Various witnesses who attended described the meeting as a “real mess”, “a fiasco” “completely disorganized” and “obviously fraudulent.” Several added that they would never attend another such meeting as long as the party’s current leadership is still in place.
After hours of wrangling and calling state party headquarters for advice and guidance, the current party chairman, Dan Harvell, was reelected while Williamston attorney Lee Cole was elected as state executive committee member. Both won by more than the contested fifteen votes, making the issue of the additional votes moot.
While some saw signs of ballot box stuffing, most were willing to accept lack of organization as the cause of the confusion.
“The whole thing was disorganized. Dan got there late and there were delegates’ packets without the delegate’s names on them. Usually, each delegate’s packet is assigned and has their name on it. When they sign in, they get their packet. Last night, there were two lines and more packets than delegates. It was a recipe for chaos, and that’s what happened,” said one attendee who declined to be identified.
Curt Gibson, whom Lee Cole defeated, said he had no hard feelings and didn’t think there was any intentional fraud. “It was poorly organized and that is an issue that needs to be addressed. But I think Lee Cole will do a good job.”
There has been a strong trend to the right in the local organization, reminiscent of the tea party movement at the national level. That trend is not universally applauded. More than one traditional Republican has expressed displeasure with the party’s shift while others think the trend is necessary to protect and retain the party’s conservative base.
The effects of the growing schism can be seen in the statements of two party members, both of whom attended Monday night.
“A certain element thinks Dan favors the crazies in the party. I don’t agree but I know that is the perception.” Another more moderate member said, “I have attended my last meeting as long as the nut jobs are running things.” Both asked that their identities be withheld.
State Representative Anne Thayer said she thought the election should have been rescheduled and done over. “We also voted on state delegates. What happens to those fifteen extra votes in those cases,” she asked?
Efforts to reach party leaders for comment were unsuccessful.