Election Expert, Opposition Campaign Suspect Foul Play in S.C. Primary

Many have puzzled over the mysterious victory of complete unknown Alvin Greene in the South Carolina Democratic Senate primary. An electoral expert and his opponent's campaign now tell NEWSWEEK that signs point to foul play.

Greene won 59 percent of the vote earlier this week, trouncing strongly favored veteran state politician and judge Vic Rawl. Greene, unemployed, paid his $10,400 filing fee himself. He did not have any campaign signs or a Web site. He apparently did no campaigning. It has since been revealed that he has a pending felony charge for allegedly showing pornography to a college student and suggesting they go to her dorm room.

Theories to explain his victory have so far centered on anti-establishment fervor, and various psychological effects that can help unknown candidates win elections. But House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, who represents South Carolina's sixth district, has also speculated that he might have been a "Republican plant." The Palmetto State has an open primary, which means that both Democrats and Republicans are free to help nominate candidates for either party.

Jon Krosnick, a Stanford professor who is a leading expert on the psychology of political behavior, says there are three possibilities: "Firstly, that voters picked the first name they saw because they didn't recognize either candidate. Secondly, that voters knew the other, more prominent candidate [Vic Rawl] but they didn't like him and figured 'if this other guy has enough money to get his name on the ballot, he must be decent, and I don't want [Rawl] so I'll just vote for Greene." The third theory is sabotage—that Republicans planted Greene in the race and took advantage of the open-primary system in South Carolina to nominate the weakest Democratic candidate to face incumbent GOP Sen. Jim DeMint.

Krosnick says that work he has done on the name-order effect (the bump a candidate receives from being higher up the ballot) shows it to be on the order of 3 percent, which means it is unlikely to account for Greene's win. Krosnick adds that the other two possibilities are difficult to put probabilities on, but that —"as a citizen, not a scientist"—he suspects sabotage is more likely.

The Rawl campaign agrees. "Greene showed up very mysteriously with a personal check to file his candidacy, and there's a rich history of such sabotage in the state," says Walter Ludwig, the campaign manager. As the results came in, he says, "We were thinking, 'This can't really be happening,' and waiting for it to turn around."

In the days since, Ludwig and his team have been looking over the election data. "We've found some … odd things," he says. The campaign has commissioned experts—Ludwig would not say who, citing a request for anonymity until their work was done—to look into these anomalies.

They include, he says, the fact that his candidate did "significantly better in absentee ballots than on Election Day. "In 10 counties we did 20 percent better. In one county we did 43 percent better. We looked at the other races on the ballot and that wasn't the case in those.

"In 25 precincts in one county, Greene got more votes than were reported to have been cast," Ludwig says, referring to Spartanburg County in the north of the state. "In 50 other precincts in that county, votes were missing."

The experts, expected to finish their analysis later Friday, will also be looking at the 300 precincts statewide in which Greene got more than 75 percent of the vote. Ludwig stresses that the move to analyze the data comes purely from a look at the returns. "I'd also like to stress," he says, "that we don't know what happened, and it could very well just be clerical or other errors. We sincerely hope there is nothing here."

Greene has consistently denied any foul play, most recently in an interview with The Washington Post. There was no answer when NEWSWEEK tried to reach him at a number listed on the South Carolina Democratic Party Web site.