Zell wins runoff vs. former senator Leventis for Sumter school board District 8 seat


Jeff Zell is set to be the new District 8 trustee on Sumter School District’s Board of Trustees following Tuesday’s runoff election.

According to unofficial election-night totals, Zell earned 59.57% of the new district’s vote, or 719 votes in the runoff. Phil Leventis took 40.43%, or 488 votes. 

Zell said he was surprised to garner that much of the vote in the runoff and that he thought the race against Leventis would be closer.

“Phil Leventis is a very popular name in Sumter with a long history,” Zell told The Sumter Item Tuesday night. “People want somebody new and to move Sumter into the future, and that is what I hope to help with."

A former state senator representing Sumter for 32 years, Leventis was looking to re-enter the political arena to help the local school district.

He said he was grateful for the opportunity to have spoken to so many people about the needs of local teachers, school staff, students, parents and the community during the campaign.

"First, I congratulate all of tonight’s winners and thank the voters in District 8," Leventis said. "While I am personally disappointed in the election results, more importantly, we are all hopeful for the future of the Sumter school board and the Sumter School District as their success has an enormous impact on the future of our Sumter community."

Votes will be made official on Friday, according to the Sumter County Voter Registration and Elections Office.

A runoff is necessary when there are more than two candidates on the ballot but no one receives a majority of the votes (50% plus one vote). This is the first election the school board required a candidate to earn a majority of votes, rather than a plurality when simply the candidate with the most votes wins, even if it is under 50%.

Incumbent Sherril Ray finished third in the Nov. 8 election and will no longer be a board member after December. She served a four-year term on the board.

All new school board members will be installed in early January.

Sumter’s school board moved to nine single-member districts for this election and moving forward. Previously, the board was comprised of seven single-member districts and two at-large seats since 2017. The boundaries were redrawn in response to the 2020 census and to legislation written by Sumter’s state lawmakers after millions in overspending was revealed in the school district’s 2016 audit. At that time and originally, the trustees were a seven-member board.