I. In Focus This Week
News Analysis: Richland County, S.C. elections still in turmoil
Deadline looms for legislators to make changes to county board
By all accounts, it’s a nice place to live and work. Recently though, it has not been a good place to vote.
The Richland County Board of Elections and Voter Registration has been under a cloud of controversy since 2011 when the General Assembly passed a law merging Richland County’s elections office and voter registration office.
During the 2012 presidential election, voters in Richland County faced some of the longest lines in the country.
Some of the problems were blamed on a lack of poll workers, malfunctioning machines and that in many cases there were simply too few voting machines at precincts. There were anecdotal reports that hundreds of voters ultimately gave up and never cast a ballot.
In the wake of the elections the debacle, Elections Director Lillian McBride resigned under pressure in January of 2013 and the board spent more than $153,000 in legal fees to investigate what went wrong in November 2012 and for representation for McBride.
The investigation largely blamed problems on McBride and her staff’s work, but also noted that legislators were to blame for failing to pay attention to growing precincts.
The Board replaced McBride with Howard Jackson in June of 2013.
But all was not well under a new elections director. During a state canvass of election results in November of 2013, it was discovered that more than 1,000 ballots were not counted.
Even before the problems in November of 2013 though, the South Carolina Public Interest Foundation had had enough and filed suit claiming that the merger of the offices had been unconstitutional and judge agreed and ordered the board split in two once again.
“The General Assembly has returned to its unconstitutional practice of enacting special and single county legislation,” Judge Thomas Cooper wrote. “The Supreme Court has repeatedly found such actions of the General Assembly unconstitutional.”
According to numerous media reports, the county’s legislative delegation has been dragging its feet about making the split.
"We've done this three times now, an alien could see, it's not getting better," Rep. Kirkman Finlay told WIST. "You know the old joke from Albert Einstein, the definition of insanity, doing the same thing, over and over again and expecting different results. We've had three horrible elections. Why don't we fix it?"
While the state legislative delegation was figuring out what to do, the county board fired its new executive director and replaced him with Boardmember Samuel Selph.
“I was asked to do some things that were unlawful,” Jackson said at a press conference following his firing. “I was told to stand down.”
During the press conference, Jackson claimed there was a power struggle between he and the board and he accused the board of racism and political posturing.
Jackson has met with investigators at the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division on at least two separate occasions and with members of the county’s legislative delegation, which has also come under fire.
The county council also recently voted to force the elections board to foot it’s own bill for legal fees and reimburse the county for time the county attorney has spent on the case.
And although legislators have been taking steps split the board, with the June primaries looming, a judge has once again ordered the delegation to do the work necessary to split the board in two.
On March 21, Judge Thomas Cooper, who ordered that the board be split about seven months ago, said legislators need to have a plan in place by April 1 (seriously).
As of press time, with April 1 only four days away, there was no word that the delegation had taken the necessary steps to split the board.
Marcy Andino, director of the South Carolina State Election Commission, said her office is monitoring the situation, but it has no authority to take over the county elections office.
“I am following the situation in Richland County,”Andino said. “The State Election Commission is available to assist the county, if necessary.”
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