Depending on how the primary votes were counted, either Tinubu scored a first-round win in the primary or she faces a run-off with Brittain. On primary night, Tinubu initially had 49% of the votes but was later declared the winner with nearly 53% of the vote after the Election Commission threw out approximately 2300 votes cast for State Rep. Ted Vick, who abandoned his Congressional campaign but was still on the ballot. By either count, Brittain finished about twelve percentage points behind Tinubu.
This outcome hasn't prevented some high-profile Democrats from working to keep Tinubu from being declared the outright winner. Both the Brittain camp and SCDP Chair Dick Harpootlian blasted the decision to declare Tinubu the winner, arguing the Vick votes should be included in the primary vote count and called for a run-off. In response to these appeals to the Election Commission and the state courts, a number of parties weighed in on the matter, making the matter increasingly murky and tentatively putting the state's run-off elections, planned for Tuesday, June 26, on hold:
- The Election Commission, which claimed to have received guidance from the state Attorney General's office, voted 3-2 to declare Tinubu the outright winner of the Democratic Primary.
- The state Attorney General's office, whose letter to the Election Commission cautioned:
We have found no South Carolina decision which addresses the issue of whether voters for a withdrawn candidate are counted ...only the courts may definitively resolve this issue ... we believe a court would conclude that Mr. Vick's votes would count ...
- Larry Hyman, an Horry County Circuit Judge, who signed a restraining order to suspend run-off elections until he can review the matter next week. The hearing is set for 9:30 a.m. on June 21, 2012 at the Georgetown County Courthouse.
Many high-profile state Democrats threw their support behind Brittain's well-funded candidacy only to see Tinubu easily leave their candidate in the dust. Many we've talked with see this as an attempt to secure a do-over by those who believe that Brittain is the more electable Democrat to run for this GOP-leaning district. We tend to agree with these assessments, but regardless of motives or conspiracy theories, it's hard to see where Brittain has any reasonable expectation of a run-off allowing him to salvage his candidacy, as it's rare that a candidate who finishes so far behind can reverse the outcome in a two-week run-off.
Collectively, Brittain and Tinubu took roughly 86% of all Democratic primary votes (including Vick's votes) cast. Assuming Brittain and Tinubu are able to turn out their primary voters in a run-off and keep their loyalty, Brittain would be faced with the challenge of winning over roughly 90% of the votes cast for other candidates to prevail. Given those numbers, it's hard to see why they'd even bother challenging the outcome in the first place.
At this point, it seems the odds against prevailing at the ballot box won't deter the Brittain camp from seeking a second chance to win the nomination. Considering the number of court rulings affecting candidates and elections in recent weeks, this case isn't the first strange turn along the path to Election Day and we don't expect it will be the last.