Photo by Destiny Stewart
This story was updated on Nov. 3, 2021.
Voters across Columbia went to the polls Tuesday to elect Columbia’s first new mayor in over a decade. At the end of the day, no mayoral candidate won. A runoff between Councilman Daniel Rickenmann, who took 43.53% of the vote, and Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine, who took 30.20% of the vote, is scheduled for Nov. 16.
Former mayoral aide Sam Johnson won 24.34% of the vote, while former councilman Moe Baddourah won 1.88%.
Turnout for the election was low, leading to a sense of disappointment among those who did choose to vote. Evelyn Clary, an insurance agent in her 30s, was one such voter.
“It’s sad, I saw all these cars and I thought, ‘Oh man this is awesome. People care and people are voting,’ and I realized school’s in session. It didn’t take me anytime to vote but I was happy because there was one young lady there voting,” Clary said.
William Slattery, a retired U.S. Army soldier, called people who did not vote “negligent in their duties” and “ignorant of their rights.”
“There are so many places in the world where you can’t vote. People don’t realize that,” said Slattery, 66.
A sense of civic duty, not specific policies or candidates, was what drove a majority of participants, especially older voters.
“Growing up my dad took us with him when it was time to vote and he said, ‘When you grow up and can vote, if you don’t go then you just keep your mouth shut about it,’ because we have the chance to say what we thought and we didn’t,” said Susan Stockdell, a 76-year-old retired Department of Health and Human Services employee.
That’s not to say that Columbia voters weren’t without opinions, though.
In the North Columbia precincts of Hyatt Park and Logan Elementary School, residents were most worried about the quality of their roads.
Kendra Mims, 35, a home healthcare specialist, has lived in North Columbia for 13 years – and said she’s been waiting on roads to be fixed the whole time.
“They’ve been working on the roads for years and years… I be trying to avoid driving certain ways if I’m headed downtown, just because I know it’ll damage my car,” Mims said.
At the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center near Five Points, voters were most concerned about their neighbors in the city.
“The present mayor has been fantastic, but I think he’s been very business-focused, where there’s work to do on inclusion and equality in the city,” said William Briggs, 75, a retired professor. “That’s the most important piece.”
Sandi Cobin, who is also retired, said she found that helping your neighborhood out is the most important thing somebody can do.
“I feel like nobody comes out for the little [elections],” she said, “but that’s where it starts. You have the most direct impact here.”
Cobin runs a small service for her apartment building, transporting elderly residents to and from doctors’ appointments.
This year’s election had faults, as well. Most notably, in precincts further away from Columbia’s center, people did not realize they could not vote since they live outside city limits.
Alexah Brown, a 27-year-old restaurant worker, was turned away because she lives in Richland County but not within city limits. She recently received mail telling her to vote at the polling place, she said.
“I figured I was good to go for today, but I guess they were just notifying me that my polling place had changed,” Brown said. “I didn’t know I wasn’t able to vote today. It was a bummer.”
Several other voters were turned away for similar reasons.
Voters also said that news attention on the local elections was lacking.
“There’s not really a lot of good information out there, and I think that the local news media could do a little bit better job,” Clary said.
In addition to the mayoral results, attorney Tina Herbert won the race for the City Council District 1 seat vacated by Sam Davis, while former SC Secretary of Commerce Joe Taylor ran uncontested for Rickenmann’s vacated 4th district seat.
Attorney Tyler Bailey and child health equity researcher Adita Bussells will enter a runoff election for Devine’s vacated at-large seat, also on the 16th.
ABOUT THE JOURNALISTS
Jack Bingham is a senior multimedia journalism major from Spartanburg, South Carolina, earning a dual degree in environmental science. Bingham strives to present scientific issues through a human lens, showing how phenomena such as climate change and pollution affect individual people. Bingham hopes to write for a publication that matches this mission, such as The Guardian or National Geographic. When he’s not in the newsroom, Bingham performs musical theatre and works at Riverbanks Zoo as an educator.
Destiny Stewart is a senior multimedia journalism student from Rock Hill, South Carolina. At an early age, she recognized her love for storytelling. She is interested in covering the arts, fashion, and culture, and she strives to bring awareness of the intersections between the fields. She has previously served as a fashion journalist intern at Prime & Prim Studio of the Arts, and has held various public relations and marketing positions. After graduation, she hopes to produce content for cultural or lifestyle publications.
Mackenzie “Ken” Patterson is a senior multimedia journalism and studio art student from Greenville, South Carolina. They are passionate about the environment and human rights and will use that passion to pursue a JD in environmental law. On campus Patterson has worked as the social media coordinator for Sustainable Carolina and continued that work off campus as a social media intern for the Post Landfill Action Network. Outside of journalism, they enjoy gardening, painting, and gaming with family.