Until about 10 minutes before noon on March 30 of this year, the Chester County sheriff’s race was set to be a one-man affair.
Max Dorsey, a Republican, was running unopposed. For almost a year, he’d been serving as the interim sheriff in Chester – an appointee to the position when Gov. Henry McMaster named him to take the place of Alex Underwood who, after serving as sheriff since 2012, was brought up on a host of federal and state corruption charges in May of 2019.
Then, just minutes before the filing deadline, Underwood, a Democrat, submitted his application to run for his third term.
There is, according to the state Election Commission, no law preventing Underwood from running for office. He’s been charged with several crimes, but he’s yet to be tried for them, much less convicted. In the eyes of the law and the Election Commission, Alex Underwood is still innocent because no one has proven him guilty of anything.
So voters in Chester County now have to consider whether Underwood’s situation is enough to make up their minds about the sheriff’s race.
For voters like William Orr, the charges against Underwood are too great to overcome. He says he used to like Underwood but this year he’s voting for Dorsey, who he says “is doing a good job.”
Thomas Rochon says he didn’t know much about Underwood, but decided to vote for Dorsey as well, because “he seems honest, so far.”
But Underwood has his supporters, especially in Chester City, where voters like Dianne Jones say he was good at tamping down crime. The city has long suffered troubles with violence and property crimes , and Jones says she wants Underwood to get back to work to deal with the problems.
City resident Dejohnta Brown and Jones both assert that innocence until proof of guilt should be considered when Chester voters step up to the polls. Brown also echoes Jones’ assertion that crime in the city needs dealing with.
But as he was heading into the county elections office to early-vote recently, Brown was unsure who to vote for. He thinks Dorsey is doing a good job with a bad situation, but also that Underwood’s law enforcement background – he was a SLED investigator for a quarter-century – makes him fit for the job.
Dorsey also was a SLED investigator for about the same amount of time.
But who voters elect in this race might not matter in terms of who sits in the sheriff’s chair. According to the state Attorney General’s Office, even if Underwood wins, the governor’s suspension would still be in effect and Dorsey, unless he opts out, would continue being interim sheriff until the charges against Underwood are disposed (either through dismissal or conviction) or until the next election for Chester County sheriff in 2024.
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Scott Morgan is the Upstate multimedia reporter for South Carolina Public Radio.