To many people, registering to vote in an election means it must be the place you normally live on a year-round basis.
According to some residents of the Town of Pawleys Island, however, that’s not the case for 25 or more newly registered voters.
With the upcoming elections and the small population of the town, those votes could skew the vote. That group of people have changed their residency for the upcoming mayoral and Town Council elections.
In a special called meeting of Town Council on Sept. 30, attorneys Butch Bowers and Billy Jenkinson shared their thoughts about whether people could vote who don’t live on the island full-time. Here’s a link to the story about that meeting:
Bowers said he believes a person who has an intent to live on Pawleys Island would be able to register and vote. Jenkinson didn’t agree. As of Aug. 2, there were 131 voters in the town. When the Oct. 9 deadline to register for the Nov. 5 election came, the number of voters had increased to 169. Those 38 new voters represent 22 percent of the total number of registered electors.
For most of the new Pawleys Island voters, their homes on the island are still shown as “6 percent” properties. That’s the tax rate for second homes. If a home is a person’s primary residence, he or she may request and get a change to a 4 percent tax rate.
Kristie Richardson, interim director of the Georgetown County Board of Voter Registration and Elections, said so long as people showed one of the accepted means of identification, they would process the registration.
After the polls close on Tuesday, Nov. 5, the Election Board will meet Nov. 7, at 10 a.m. The board will count and certify vote totals at that time. Anyone who wishes to challenge a vote, for residency or any other reason, would need to do so at that meeting.
Before residents voted to incorporate in 1985, members promoting incorporation used a set of talking points for “Setting the Record Straight.” The three-page document presented “Misconceptions” and “The Fact:” in response to the possible misunderstanding. One of them stated: “Code Section 5-15-20 requires that the mayor and town council must be registered electors residing in the town. This means your friends and neighbors. If there are some you don’t trust, don’t elect them to office. You will have a lot more control over your taxes in your own town than you do in your county, state or nation.”
Mayor Jimmy Braswell told the Georgetown Times/South Strand News about that statement after the Sept. 30 meeting. “But, according to Butch Bowers, it doesn’t make a difference. But, that’s his opinion, which are settled in courts of law. That was the intent of the founders” of the town.
“We right now are the fastest growing town in America, in one month’s time,” Braswell said. That’s because of the increase in the number of voters in such a short time.
“To which, to me, what is the intent of that huge increase – to use Butch Bowers’ word of ‘intent’?”
Braswell said he hadn’t decided whether he would file a challenge to the newly registered voters.
“I really think it’s a question for the legislature to answer,” Braswell said. “It’s so easy to move voter registration around, that it could affect the entire state. I think it could be a disruption of the entire state of South Carolina.”
Residency requirements have grown complex. That was evident as attorneys Butch Bowers and Billy Jenkinson spoke at the Sept. 30 town council meeting. There are many opinions from the state Attorney General’s office over the decades. One that discusses residency and second homes was written on April 5, 2013. Here’s an extract from that opinion: “This Office has published multiple other previous opinions concerning similar issues as presented in your letter. See Ops. S.C. Atty. Gen., 2009 WL 2844864 (August 27, 2009) (opining that vehicle registration is a factor in determining legal residency but should not be the sole basis for denial of a primary residence reduced rate by a county assessor) (citing Op. S.C. Atty. Gen., 1993 WL 720126 (June 11, 1993) which said “ [a] person may have but one domicile at any given time; and to change one’ s domicile, ‘there must be an abandonment of, and an intent not to return to the former domicile.’ 28 C.J.S., Domicile,§ 13. There must also be clear establishment of a new domicile. Gasque v. Gasque, 246 S.C. 423, 143 S.E.2d 143 811 (1965). The Supreme Court has emphasized that ‘ [ o ]ne of the essential elements to constitute a particular place as one’ s domicile ... is an intention to remain permanently or for an indefinite time in such place.’”
Another part of the opinion states:
“Therefore, let us look to the section of the South Carolina Code of Laws that discusses primary residence. South Carolina Code of Laws Section 12-43-220( c)(2)(ii) (1976 Code, as amended) provides that: ... the owner ... shall certify to the following statement: “Under penalty of perjury I certify that: (A) the residence which is the subject of this application is my legal residence and where I am domiciled at the time of this application and that neither I, nor any member of my household, claim to be a legal resident of a jurisdiction other than South Carolina for any purpose; and (B) that neither I, nor a member of my household, claim the special assessment ratio allowed by this section on another residence.”
You may read or download the 6-page opinion here:
Scott Slatton is Legislative and Public Policy Advocate for the Municipal Association of South Carolina and is familiar with election laws.
The State Constitution talks about the quality of municipal elections, Slatton said.
“Each voter has to reside in the city 30 days before he can vote. So, the city cannot pass an ordinance to allow non-residents to vote,” he said.
“For the proof of residency, the (State) Supreme Court has decided intent to return is a factor. Usually, this is for a person who is elected but then moves.,” Slatton said.
“The issue of residency and proving residency is a problem across the state.”
“So, the voter registration office will rely on the usual items, such as where you pay your 4 percent property taxes.”
A person who owns two or more homes may only claim one of them as his residency or domicile. For that home, the property tax is 4 percent of assessed value. A second or vacation home is assessed at 6 percent.
“So, you go to where the drivers license says the person lives, or utility bills.”
If there is a challenge to a registered elector, Slatton said, Title 5, the municipal section, “allows council to decide the qualifications as residents, and then council conducts a hearing. Then council can determine (the issue) and have them removed.”
“What you have to rely on is the integrity of the person,” Slatton said.