5 runoff elections Tuesday; eligible voters who live in districts to determine 4 seats on Sumter school board and city council Ward 1


It might be two days before Thanksgiving, but Tuesday is another Election Day for voters who reside in Sumter County districts involved in five runoff races.

Pat Jefferson, executive director of the Sumter County Voter Registration and Elections Office, spoke Friday on the four Sumter school board races and Sumter City Council Ward 1 race, where voters chose between more than two candidates on each ballot and didn't put more than 50% of their support behind any one candidate.

A total of 27 precincts in those areas will be open for registered voters from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for the runoff elections.

This is the first time that Sumter County has had five runoffs after the November election, according to Jefferson, and it is also a first for the Sumter school board races to move from a plurality to a majority system for winning seats, similar to other elections.

In the plurality system, the candidate who simply earns the most votes is elected, meaning a candidate could be supported by significantly less than a majority of voters and still win. In the majority system, a candidate must receive more than 50% of the vote to serve in office, equal to at least 50% plus one vote. If no candidate achieves that benchmark total, the top two-vote getters go to a runoff.

The four school board races that will have a runoff are districts 1 and 2 in the northern portions of Sumter County, 4 in the Mayesville/Shiloh area and 8 in the western and northern portions of the City of Sumter to include the Wilson Hall area.

Sumter school board districts are all technically new this election cycle and moving forward after transitioning from seven single-member with two at-large districts to nine single-member districts. The redrawing was done in response to the 2020 census and to legislation written by Sumter's state lawmakers after millions in overspending was revealed in 2016. The legislation created the two at-large members, with provisions they would become single-members districts this year.

Eligible voters are already loaded in the voter registration/elections office system, Jefferson said, and voters who are ineligible to vote in a runoff election will be told as much if they go to a precinct. Eligibility is determined by living in the district where there is a runoff and having already been a registered voter.

Curbside voting will be available at all polling locations, Jefferson added.

Voters are advised to have a photo identification ready when arriving at a precinct.

Jefferson said if a registered voter is not sure if they are eligible to vote on Tuesday to call her office before heading to a precinct at (803) 436-2310, 2311, 2312, or 2313, and staff members can provide that information by phone.

But that information is also available by looking at the new, blue voter registration card that was mailed to all county registered voters in late September and October. You can also go to www.scvotes.gov to search your sample ballot and find in which districts you live.

With the runoffs occurring just before the holiday, Jefferson projects turnout will be low, which means even more so that "every vote matters, every vote counts," she said.

Regarding early voting for the runoffs that was held this week, Jefferson said turnout was "very low," with 794 total votes cast Wednesday through Friday.


Incumbent Brian Alston faces newcomer Daniel Palumbo for the Sumter school board District 1 race.

On Nov. 8, in a three-way race, Alston received 37.49%, or 764 votes. Palumbo placed second with 35.43%, or 722 votes.

A Rembert native, Alston has served four years on the board, dating back to November 2018. He is a part-time teacher at Ragin Preparatory Christian Academy, a local private school, and he works remotely full time as a grant administrator at a Columbia-based state government agency.

Palumbo, a Sumter resident since 2013, is retired from the U.S. Air Force and in 2018 bought and began operating a Kona Ice franchise that serves Sumter, Columbia/Lexington and Clarendon counties.


Incumbent Frank Baker faces newcomer Brittany English for the Sumter school board District 2 race.

On Nov. 8, in a three-way race, English was the top vote-getter with 42.96%, or 1,053 votes. Baker placed second with 39.41%, or 966 votes.

A native and resident of the Pisgah area, Baker has served on the school board for four years. Before that, he was the district's superintendent from 2013-17 and retired following the district's financial crisis. Baker served 40 years in the former Sumter School District 2, the last 19 as its superintendent. His tenure in that capacity ended in 2011 when Sumter County consolidated its two school districts into one countywide district.

A Rembert resident, English is a kinship care coordinator with the state Department of Social Services, based in Columbia, where she provides services to families and children across the state.


Tarah Cousar Johnson and Monica Squires will battle in the runoff after they were the top vote-getters in a four-way race in the District 4 race.

Johnson received 36.65% of the total vote, or 1,126 ballots, while Squires was second with 32.32%, or 993 votes. Incumbent Daryl McGhaney finished a distant third.

A native of Lynchburg in Sumter County, Johnson moved back home to live in the St. John/Shiloh community within the last two years. She works in communications, planning and sales with a consumer goods company. Johnson previously worked as a teacher and in administration in the former Sumter School District 2.

A lifelong resident of Sumter County, Squires has 10 years of experience as a school board member. She served on the former Sumter School District 2 board from 2002 until consolidation in 2011. Then, she was elected to the consolidated district board for a one-year term. In 2012, she lost her seat in that year's election to outgoing Chairwoman Barbara Jackson, who did not seek another term.


Phil Leventis and Jeff Zell will battle in the runoff after they were the top vote-getters in the four-way race for the District 8 seat.

Leventis received 40.19%, or 1,332 votes, and Zell recorded 30.99%, or 1,027 votes. Incumbent Sherril Ray finished third in the race.

A former state senator representing Sumter for 32 years, Leventis is attempting to step back into the political arena by running for the board seat.

He joined the U.S. Air Force in 1969 and moved to Sumter in 1974 to help operate a family business, which he did through 2008.

He also began in 1974 in the South Carolina Air National Guard at McEntire Joint National Guard Base in Eastover. Leventis retired from McEntire in 1999.

An Ohio native, Zell joined the U.S. Air Force in 2002. He moved to Sumter and Shaw Air Force Base in 2017 and recently retired with 20 years of active-duty service as a senior non-commissioned officer. This is Zell's first venture in politics.


After five went head to head Nov. 8, two will compete for Sumter City Council's Ward 1 seat Tuesday.

First-time election candidates Joe Brown and Anthony Gibson will appear in the runoff. The winner will succeed the recently late Thomas Lowery, who passed away this month after a long battle with ailing health. He served on council for 20 years and was not running for re-election.

Brown received the most votes in the midterm election with 33.83% of votes, or 338 votes.

He is a 52-year-old Sumter native, originally from South Sumter, and works as a bail bondsman. Brown ran for election to be a strong voice for the residents of Ward 1 in advocating for job and business growth, youth growth and development in his district and throughout the city and making it eco-friendly and safe.

Gibson had the second-most votes with 26.23%, or 262 votes. He moved to Ward 1 in 2007 and is the senior pastor of Grace Cathedral Ministries in Sumter. He is also a Realtor with Keller Williams Columbia, serving Sumter, Clarendon and Richland counties.

The 47-year-old ran for office on his love for the city and with hope to do more to better it. His hope is to promote growth and enhance the quality of life in the city for residents.

The Item's Shelbie Goulding contributed to this report.