Surfside Beach considers changing election process in close races

SURFSIDE BEACH, SC (WBTW) – Surfside Beach could make some major changes to the way residents vote for town officials.

Surfside Beach Town Clerk Debra Herrmann says town leaders will discuss getting rid of most runoffs at Tuesday’s town council meeting. The town would only have a runoff if there’s a tie, and candidates would win by plurality.

“We’ve had runoffs for every single election I’ve been involved in,” explains Herrmann. “I’ve done this for 13 years and I’ve never had an election that didn’t have a runoff.”

Herrmann says the town’s election process is about as old as the town, but that could change soon.

“So if there are three council seats to be filled, then the three candidates with the highest number of votes would be seated and there would be no run off,” says Herrmann.

Town council asked staff to find ways to cut expenses, and Herrmann says eliminating runoffs when there isn’t an exact tie, will cut election costs in half.

“It costs just as much to do the runoff election as it does the general election. Everything we do is taxpayers’ money, so we’re looking at ways to save taxpayers money,” reports Herrmann.

Surfside Beach spent about $7,500 on elections last year, which may not be a large portion of the town’s budget, but Herrmann say it was over budget. She says the town will also consider increasing candidate filing fees to offset election costs.

“Every time we take a dollar for something like this, that’s a dollar that could go for storm water projects, or improving police equipment or something like that,” reasons Herrmann.

Town leaders hope eliminating run offs, except for in the case of a tie, will also increase voter turnout. Herrmann says the highest number the town has seen on Election Day was about 20% of registered voters.

“During the election there were people who told me, ‘I’ll just wait and see who’s in the runoff and vote then’. I feel like if the electors know there is just one Election Day, they’ll exercise their right to vote on that Election Day,” predicts Herrmann.

If there is a tie in any election, the runoff will be held two weeks after the election. Surfside Beach Town Council will meet Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. to discuss the proposed changes.