Election office prepares for special ballot to fill Richland 1 board vacancy

dhinshaw@thestate, cclick@thestate.comMarch 26, 2013 

— The cost to conduct a special election to fill an unexpired term on the Richland 1 school board is nearly $140,000, based on estimates prepared by the Richland County Elections & Voter Registration Office.

The June 4 election will decide who fills an at-large vacancy created with the death of Barbara Scott earlier this month. The filing period opened Friday and closes April 1. The winner will serve the remainder of her term, which runs through 2016.

Today, a committee of Richland County Council takes up the estimated cost and a decision on who should pay for the election — taxpayers countywide or those in the school district.

The special election will be the first time Richland County voters have returned to the polls since Nov. 6, a presidential Election Day fiasco that began with too few voting machines and ended with long lines and a frustrated electorate. Some voters left precincts without casting ballots.

The ensuing uproar over election missteps resulted in a shake-up within the office. Director Lillian McBride, who bore the brunt of public ire, moved to a newly created deputy director’s post.

The special election will be something of a test for the county elections office to prove that it can conduct a well-organized election.

Interim director Jasper Salmond said he asked the staff to create a budget that broke down expenses item by item, knowing the public would scrutinize the process. “If we’re going to build public confidence,” he said, “we have to establish accountability.”

The largest line item is $49,800 to pay for 415 poll managers at the 86 precincts that would be part of a district-wide election. Those poll managers earn $120 per election, or $10 an hour.

Among other expenses, poll clerks add another $15,480 to the cost estimate, while part-time staff contributes another $20,965. Absentee applications, ballots and postage are estimated to cost nearly $24,000.

Salmond said while the budget is preliminary, it is based on a plan to provide one voting machine for every 250 registered voters.

State law also stipulates three poll managers for every 500 registered voters, said Chris Whitmire, a spokesman for the state Election Commission.

As of mid-day Monday, there were 128,784 registered voters in Richland 1, according to the county office.

Richland Councilman Norman Jackson, chairman of the development and services committee, was focused on who pays for the $139,775 election. He said it’s the responsibility of the school board — not the county — to foot the bill.

“If that’s what it costs, that’s what it costs,” Jackson said.

Efforts to reach Richland 1 school board chairman Jamie Devine were unsuccessful Monday.

Whitmire said the cost of an election depends on the number of registered voters in a district or county.

Neither Whitmire nor Debbie Elmore, a spokeswoman for the S.C. School Boards Association, knew whether it’s typical for a school board or a county to pay for a special election to replace a school trustee.

Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641 or Click at (803) 771-8386.

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