Results in SC House race in Columbia disputed

Republican trailed until absentee ballots counted; McCulloch challenges tally

ashain@thestate.comNovember 8, 2012 

— Republican Kirkman Finlay was declared the unofficial winner of the S.C. House District 75 race Wednesday, after trailing until the final absentee ballots were counted. But Democrat Joe McCulloch’s campaign is disputing the tally.

The last batch of absentee votes turned a 46-vote deficit for Finlay into a 265-vote win as Richland County election officials counted ballots after voting-machine problems in Tuesday’s election.

In the final count, Finlay received 267 votes under one absentee ballot category while McCulloch received none, said members of the Democratic camp, including state Rep. James Smith of Columbia.

McCulloch is not conceding the race yet, his campaign manager Max Blachman said.

“We’re gong to take our time to look at all the votes to ensure that they all are counted accurately,” Blachman said. “If congratulations are in order, they will be offered.”

The absentee votes are a combination of people voting at machines at the Richland election office and paper ballots mailed to that office, said Liz Crum, chairwoman of the Richland County Election Commission.

An audit of the vote count should be finished Friday, shortly before ballots must be certified to the state, Crum said.

Representatives of both campaigns spent 11 hours sitting inside the small Richland County election office Wednesday, waiting for results.

McCulloch, an attorney, led during early returns. But Finlay, a former Columbia city councilman and unsuccessful candidate for mayor, closed the gap Wednesday when the Woodlands, a large Republican-leaning precinct, was counted.

Democratic and Republican party leaders have called for an investigation into the election-day problems and machine malfunctions in Richland County, which had some voters casting ballots around midnight.

“I don’t know what would surprise me at this point,” Blachman said.

Finlay said he plans to look at ways to improve the state budget when he succeeds retiring state Rep. Jim Harrison, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

“You always want to win by more,” he said. “But, after a few days, it’s the Ws (wins) and Ls (loses) that matter more.”

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